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CT has spent over 20 years trying to improve police conduct. Is it working?

A state trooper conducts a routine patrol in Hartford in July 2020. When the siren is on, his body camera and the video camera in the police car automatically record.
A state trooper conducts a routine patrol in Hartford in July 2020. When the siren is on, his body camera and the video camera in the police car automatically record.

Connecticut has taken steps since the late 1990s to monitor and, ultimately, encourage changes in police practices across the state.

But following the murders of George Floyd and others at the hands of police across the country, the state’s ongoing efforts to address police officers’ excessive use of force and racial and ethnic disparities in policing have come into greater focus.

The state has launched several initiatives in recent years to increase police accountability, including tracking use-of-force statistics, equipping officers with body cameras and analyzing racial profiling in traffic stops.

How effective have these efforts been? Here’s what you need to know.

Tracking excessive use-of-force

How does it work? Since 2019, Connecticut has attempted to collect more detailed information about how often police officers in the state are tackling, tasing, restraining and aiming weapons at members of the public to gain a better understanding of current law enforcement practices.

State officials have required police departments throughout Connecticut to report use-of-force statistics over the past two years, and the data were released to the public in July 2022.

What are the report’s limitations? The first analysis provides some insights, but officials warned about drawing conclusions because of a lack of standards in data collection and incomplete participation among police departments.

A new law that went into effect July 1 of this year established a uniform report that all departments must submit in the coming years.

What did the first report find? The report collected data from nearly 1,300 use-of-force reports submitted by 60 police departments across the state for incidents in 2019 and 2020.

Overall, officers used force at a rate of just over 1% of all arrests. There were 11 people shot and killed by police in 2019 and 2020.

People involved in a confrontation with police that led to use of force were more likely to be unarmed, Black, male, under 40 years old and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to the report.

Mandating body cams

Does Connecticut require body cams? Yes. Following a wave of protests in 2020, the legislature passed a sweeping police accountability bill that included a mandate for local police departments in Connecticut to equip their officers with body cameras by July 2022.

Didn’t the state’s effort on body cams start prior to 2020? In 2015, state lawmakers voted to create a new grant program to help fund the purchase of body cameras for state troopers, campus police and local departments throughout the state.

The state initially promised to refund local departments 100% of the cost of the camera purchases. Even so, many departments were slow to apply for the grants.

New Haven Assistant Chief Rachael Cain addresses first group of body-cam trainees in 2017.
New Haven Assistant Chief Rachael Cain addresses first group of body-cam trainees in 2017.

Some police chiefs in the state voiced concerns about the recurring expenses their departments would face to digitally store thousands of hours of footage. The state didn’t offer to help the departments cover the ongoing costs of maintaining those systems.

Do all police now have body cameras? Unclear. Though all officers are currently required to be equipped with body cameras, no state agency is tracking whether police departments had purchased them by the July 2022 deadline.

Curbing racial profiling in police stops

Haven’t CT lawmakers been working on this issue for a long time? Connecticut officials have worked to halt racial profiling in police stops since passing a 1999 law to address the issue.

But three decades later, state lawmakers continue to grapple with traffic stops.

In the state’s most recent police accountability legislation — passed in 2020 — Connecticut ended “consent searches,” in which an officer pulls a driver over and asks for the motorist’s consent to search the vehicle.

How is the state holding local police departments accountable? The General Assembly created the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project in 2012. Its mission is to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities in traffic enforcement.

Since 2013, project staffers have examined 3.5 million traffic stops by the state’s 107 law enforcement agencies, which are required to send traffic stop data to the state each month.

From the data, the project team is able to analyze which communities were more likely to show racial and ethnic disparities in traffic stops.

Is the project working? The results are promising. The research has helped reduce racial disparities in several communities while improving police effectiveness.

That has been accomplished by encouraging police to focus almost entirely on roadway safety and not use traffic stops as a pretext to address other issues — like asking to search the car for drugs, weapons or other contraband.

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