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State releases annual findings on police and racial profiling

State researchers from the University of Connecticut’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy on Thursday released preliminary findings on racial profiling in law enforcement in 2020.

And here’s what they found: While issues persist with people of color getting pulled over in Connecticut as compared to white people, the disparities in traffic stops aren’t as stark as they once were.

The share of Black and Hispanic motorists stopped by police in the state did increase from 2019 to 2020 despite a 53 percent reduction in the number of traffic stops in Connecticut due to the pandemic.

“I don’t want it to be lost on people how much progress has been made in reducing the statewide disparity across both Black and Hispanic motorists to the point now where we’re actually having to explore a totally different question,” said Ken Barone, the institute’s project manager. “Which is for Black drivers, we’re seeing a disparity opposite of what we saw years ago, and the question is, ‘What’s driving that?’”

One of the tests Barone’s team uses to interpret traffic stop data is called the Veil of Darkness.

“The assumption behind the test is that if racial bias is driven by the ability of officers to observe the race of drivers before making a stop, then we should observe a statistical disparity between the rate of a minority stop occurring in daylight versus darkness,” Barone said.

Researchers found no disparity in Black motorists stopped in Connecticut in the daytime versus night in 2020. While one still exists for Hispanic drivers, Barone says the disparity has shrunk in the past three years.

Barone wants to examine whether that has to do with a change in behavior of the motorists or perhaps the police.

The institute analyzes traffic data on behalf of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project.

“Just the fact that we’re watching has also impacted activity as well,” said Tanya Hughes, a board member of the racial profiling prohibition project who’s also executive director of the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

“People always change behavior if [police are] present,” she said. “We’re also present.”

One other point of analysis in the research has to do with car searches. This test of racial bias in law enforcement is called the KPT Hit Rate. Barone says Black and Hispanic motorists are searched more in Connecticut than their white counterparts, yet the hit rate of officers actually discovering contraband is lower.

“The KPT Hit Rate test found a lower hit rate for minority motorists,” Barone said. “Which suggests the potential presence of a preference on the part of police for searching minority motorists.”

Of the 107 law enforcement agencies examined in Connecticut for the 2020 analysis, four municipal departments and three state agencies had significant disparities. Three of them -- the Hartford, Middletown and Torrington police departments -- warrant further analysis due to disparities in traffic stops.

Barone said the institute may have more to report on those agencies in the spring.

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