Gap in stops of white, minority drivers shrinks for 2nd year
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The disparity between the rate of police traffic stops in Connecticut of black and Hispanic drivers and of their white counterparts shrank for a second consecutive year in 2018, according to a state report released Tuesday.
While police statewide continued to stop minority drivers at disproportionately high rates on average compared with their percentages of the general population, fewer departments were identified as having significantly high rates of pulling over black and Hispanic drivers, analysts said.
“The data is showing progress is being made,” said Kenneth Barone, project manager at the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University. “We continue to see disparities shrink. We continue to see fewer departments identified as outliers.”
The 2018 data was submitted by state and local police as mandated by Connecticut’s 1999 law banning racial profiling. About 510,000 traffic stops were analyzed by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy and private consultants in the report released Tuesday.
As in previous reports, analysts said that while the data may show disproportionate percentages of traffic stops involving minorities, it is not proof officers are committing racial profiling. Reasons rates of traffic stops of blacks and Hispanics are higher include close proximity to urban areas, police officials say.
Statewide, about 17% of drivers who were stopped by police were black, compared with 9% of the state’s population that is black and of driving age. About 15% of the motorists were Hispanic, compared with the 11.9% of the population that is Hispanic and of driving age, the report said.
Those percentages were about the same as they were in 2017, and slightly higher than they were in previous years. Those increases, Barone said, were linked to a decline in the overall number of traffic stops made by state police because of reduced staffing, which appears to have boosted the minority stop percentages because many troopers patrol rural areas with predominately white populations.
Two police agencies, Bridgeport and the state police troop in Colchester, were identified as stopping minority drivers at significantly high rates in 2018 compared with whites during daylight hours, when analysts say the race of a driver is more likely to be visible to officers. There also was evidence Hispanic drivers were more likely to be stopped during daylight hours by state police, analysts said.
In comparison, data from a one-year period ending in September 2016 showed six local police departments and the state police troop in North Canaan had significantly high rates of stopping minority drivers during daylight hours.
Bridgeport officials said Tuesday that they were preparing a response to the report.
Brian Foley, an aide to state Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella, released a statement that did not directly address the report’s findings about state police.
“We are always looking for ways to improve our service and trust between the community and our state troopers,” Brian Foley, a Rovella aide, said in a written statement. “The bottom line is if our community and our citizens feel there’s an issue then certainly we have to recognize that. ... We look forward to continued evaluation and conversation.”
The new numbers are encouraging, but more work needs to be done to prevent police bias, said Cato Laurencin, a member of the state advisory board that oversees the traffic stop data collection.
Laurencin called for the board to collect more information, including communities’ feelings about their relationship with police, how minority drivers stopped by police feel, and whether police understand the concept of unconscious bias.
Scot Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, said it was disturbing to see in the report that police were more likely to search the vehicles of minority drivers but less likely to find contraband than in white drivers’ vehicles.
“We are noticing that profiling is reducing a bit in the state, but this illegal practice is still pervasive and traumatic to black and brown people in Connecticut and throughout this nation,” Esdaile said.
In response to the annual traffic stop reports, police departments have taken action including reducing the number of vehicles they pull over for equipment violations, which are more common in minority neighborhoods.
Some suburban departments also have reduced traffic enforcement at the borders of big cities, which have significantly higher black and Hispanic populations, Barone said.
Louis Fusaro Jr., chief of Groton town police, said police chiefs across the state review the data with the goal of improving their service, and he underscored that racial disparities are declining.
“Although many departments have been identified as having statistically significant disparities in traffic stops or post-stop outcomes,” he said, “no department has been found to have engaged in racial profiling.”