The New Haven Police Department will be monitored by researchers after a statewide report found high rates of racial disparity in traffic stops.
On Tuesday, researchers at the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy from Central Connecticut State University published a report analyzing traffic stop data collected from around the state. The project was designed in compliance with Connecticut’s Alvin W. Penn Act, which requires all police departments in the state to record traffic stop data. Opening a conversation that lasted over two hours at the Public Safety and Security Committee Briefing, Kenneth Barone — one of the authors of the report — explained that two state police troops and 10 Connecticut police departments, including the NHPD, had been identified as having racial disparities in their traffic stops between Oct. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2014.
However, Michael Lawlor, state under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning, stressed at the hearing that while Connecticut reports some racial discrepancies in traffic stops, residents should not fear repetition of the events in Ferguson last summer.
“Even the most outlying town in our state is nowhere near the type of racially disparate treatment that was demonstrated by the Ferguson Police Department,” he said.
Barone said at the meeting that the researchers determined outliers in the data using seven different statistical methods. These included comparing the number of minority drivers in a particular area to the number of minorities stopped by police. Furthermore, the number of minorities stopped during the day was compared to the number stopped at night to see if police officers had pulled over more minorities when race is visible.
New Haven was one of the cities identified as an outlier. The report stated that the committee will monitor the city’s future traffic stops to determine whether there is a need for further analysis.
The report includes data from 101 of the state’s 102 police departments. Stamford’s data was not included after reports surfaced that the department was not accurately recording data.
The report states that 620,000 traffic stops were recorded throughout the state. Overall, 13.5 percent of motorists stopped during this period were black, 11.7 percent of motorists were Hispanic, while 73.1 percent were white, according to the data.
The NHPD stopped 11,159 motorists, arresting 2.4 percent of those and searching 7.5 percent. Just over 63 percent of stopped motorists were minorities and 45.5 percent were black — the highest percentage reported in the state. The Yale Police Department exceeded the statewide average for stops of black drivers, with 37.9 percent, and also exceeded the statewide average of Hispanic motorists stopped with a rate of 11.9 percent.
However, the report notes that New Haven has a higher black population than other areas of the state, a statistic accounted for in the analysis for outliers.
Neither NHPD spokesman David Hartman nor YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins responded to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Despite the depth of the analysis, the report received criticism at the hearing for not accounting for citizens’ concerns. State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, who represents Hartford, confronted Barone about municipal departments, including Avon and Danbury, where she knew of multiple citizens who had filed complaints of racial profiling. Those departments were not identified as outliers in the recent report.
James Fazzalaro, an author of the report, responded by acknowledging that the statistical outliers identified are not the only departments asked to review their data. Every police department in the state has received information about further training for officers and a detailed analysis of the data received from their specific department.
While the report highlights police departments that stop minorities significantly more than Caucasians for traffic violations, Connecticut State Police Union Chief Sgt. Andy Matthews said that individual officers, not police departments, should be held accountable for their actions. He said he is confident that the police departments, on the whole, do not have any motivation to racially discriminate.
Even though Matthews said racial profiling is not tolerated by police departments, the report explains the phenomenon of “unconscious bias,” where officers are unaware of their racial bias.
“I believe unconscious bias has a role to play in this conversation,” Barone said. “[It] exists in every profession.”
Gonzalez questioned the state justice department’s ability to train a police officer out of an unconscious bias they may have. However, according to the report’s staff, there are many police departments who have already expressed interest in this kind of training.
Lawlor added that many police departments are also adopting other initiatives that will help the state better monitor police activity, including mandating that officers use body cameras, dashboard cameras and other recording instruments.
“This report provides the data to understand the importance of making these changes,” Lawlor said.
These initiatives are expensive, Lawlor added, so most progress is channeled into the state’s largest departments, located in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. Hartford Police Chief Brian Foley told the News in February of his department’s plans to expand their use of body cameras, and a recent investigation of the YPD has also recommended body cameras for all their officers.
David McGuire, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut praised the report’s ability to pinpoint areas where racial bias is most severe. In a Tuesday statement, he said the next step is to train police to understand how their unconscious bias can lead to discriminatory behavior.
“It is incumbent upon police departments to recognize and correct the bias that is driving many of their traffic stops,” he said.
Traffic stop data will be updated online on a regular basis, according to Barone, so that analysis can continue.