Traffic stop data, which is aggregated by police statewide, have been released to inform effective police protocol and investigate the incidence of racial profiling in Connecticut.
The data, released in a Thursday report by a group associated with Central Connecticut State University, showed that though African-American citizens comprise 7.96 percent of Connecticut’s population, they were involved in 14.07 percent of the state’s traffic stops. And though 71.6 percent of traffic stops for white citizens led to some kind of recorded infraction or summons, that number was 70.3 percent for African-American citizens.
The project was designed in compliance with Connecticut’s Alvin W. Penn Act to explore the relationship between law enforcement and minority populations in the state, the report stated.
“In 2012 and 2013, the Connecticut General Assembly enhanced the Alvin W. Penn Act to address racial profiling concerns in Connecticut,” the report read. “Specifically, the legislature modified the reporting requirements of traffic stop information while simultaneously establishing the Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board.”
The report — published by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy from Central Connecticut State University — was the culmination of several months of data collection and analysis led by a board consisting of 28 state and local leaders, including New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman, CCSU professor William Dyson, State Senator Gary Holder-Winfield and Connecticut Undersecretary Mike Lawlor.
Dyson, the board’s chair, and Lawlor could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The report was the first of its kind in more than ten years, coming on the heels of a two-year process in which the board worked to secure $1.2 million in federal funding from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to begin the necessary research. Starting Oct. 1, 2013, police forces from across Connecticut recorded information from the traffic stops that they made through May 31.
“The electronic collection and submission of traffic stop information will allow policymakers and law enforcement administration and law enforcement administrators to respond to the communities they serve…[and] to enhance relationships between police agencies and their communities,” the report’s executive report said.
If officers pull over African-American drivers at a disproportionate rate, but they are not convicted at equally high rates, the officers are likely using racial profiling tactics, according to Yale sociology professor Elijah Anderson. Numbers reported by the Yale and New Haven police departments fall in line with this trend.
The NHPD searched 5.8 percent of the white drivers they stopped, while they searched 10.5 percent of black drivers.
Despite of the higher investigation rate for black drivers, the report showed that illegal items were recovered from 29.8 percent of white drivers and only 23.7 percent of black drivers.
The YPD faces an even higher disparity. Although the department searched 6.8 percent of white drivers and 10.7 percent of black drivers, 52 percent of the white drivers were found to be carrying illegal items, while the same could be said of only 20.8 percent of black drivers.
“There’s a kind of profiling that goes on, but they come up empty-handed, which proves the point,” said Anderson,whose research specialties include urban ethnography and police-community relations. “When they pull over white drivers, they find more and a lot of the black profiling is for nothing.”
He did concede that the differences may be due to a cultural trend where African-Americans are wary to carry illegal items because they feel that they are more susceptible to being pulled over.
Given the centrality of the community policing model to Connecticut law enforcement and the increased attention towards police conduct, particularly with African-Americans, the report comes at a crucial time and could thus have significant implications, Anderson said.
He added that a national history of racial profiling in law enforcement necessitates reports like this one to foster trust and help bridge the existing divide between police and targeted minority groups.
“One of the issues is that a lot of people don’t believe in the police,” Anderson said. “They think that the police have abdicated their responsibilities to the community.”
The Penn Act was first enacted in Connecticut in 1999.