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New Racial Profiling Report Focuses On Eight Connecticut Police Departments

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A board set up to combat racial profiling by police has released a follow-up to last year's report on traffic stops and racial profiling across the state. The follow-up focused on eight towns that had unusually high number of minority traffic stops in the initial report.

This year, police chiefs in those towns were given the chance to respond to the report.

Ansonia, Berlin, Darien, Madison, Monroe, Newtown, Norwich, and Ridgefield were flagged in last year's report for having a significant racial disparity when it comes to traffic stops.

Central Connecticut State University's Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy took a deeper dive to better understand why these municipalities had higher than normal rates of minority traffic stops.

Often, the disparity was attributed to traffic stops in high volume areas where a significant amount of out-of-town drivers skewed the numbers, such as the Berlin Turnpike in Berlin, or summer traffic going to and from Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison.

In Darien, traffic on Old Post Road poses a similar problem. The data shows that white drivers were more likely to be stopped for hazardous driving behaviors, like distracted driving. Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to be stopped for equipment failures in Darien, a strategy Ken Barone, project manager for the IMRP said is often used by police look for more serious criminal activity.

“It's a way to interact with the driver,” said Barone. “They can not only inform the driver that the violation occurred so they can correct it, they can also try and assess where are you coming from, where are you going to.”

The report suggested that Darien should review the strategy of equipment failure stops and the disproportionate impact it has on minority drivers.

Darien Police Chief Ray Osbourne defended the practice.

“We found one officer, he took 44 suspended operators off the street, he took 19 vehicles that were uninsured off the street, he made 5 arrests for drug related offenses all as a result of stopping cars with equipment violations,” said Osborne.

In his written response to the panel, Chief Osbourne disagreed with the conclusions in the report and questioned the methodology used by the IMRP.

But Madison Police Chief John "Jack" Drumm welcomed the report, and told the Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board that equipment stops only hurt poor people who can't afford it.

“They are trying to get to work, they are trying to do the right thing, they are trying to pay their taxes,” said Drumm, “and giving them a ticket for 2, 3, 400 dollars because at some point in the state of Connecticut they decided this was a way to balance the budget. It's not right.”

Last year's racial profiling report, as well as the supplemental report were based on traffic stop data collected by individual police departments from October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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