August 5, 2013

New Racial Profiling Law Brings Optimism

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Courtney Leopold

Courtney Leopold

In 1999, the Alvin W. Penn law was passed in Connecticut, the first racial profiling law in the state. The law declares that police may not stop, detain or search any motorist’s vehicle based only on race, gender or sexual orientation.

Fourteen years later, after new incidents of racial profiling in Connecticut and nationally, the state is poised to become a leader in a new model to discourage racism.

Courtney Leopold

Courtney Leopold

The lead author of new legislation that will take effect in October 2013 says he is hopeful that the changes will help Connecticut eliminate racial profiling by police officers.

In an exclusive interview, John DeCarlo, a former police chief in Branford who co-chaired a committee on racial profiling, described the new legislation as an early warning system that will tighten reporting of police stops and identify patterns of profiling.

“The first thing is to collect data and see if there’s disproportionate (action by) police officers,” said DeCarlo, an expert in police management who co-led the panel with former state Rep. William R. Dyson.

Under the new system, the state Office of Policy and Management and the Chief State’s Attorney will collect complaints about tickets issued to motorists who believe they were unfairly targeted. The state will use a standardized system to collect and record information on all traffic stops.

DeCarlo said the new system will keep local police chiefs better informed and will help to identify individual police officers who might be targeting people because of race or gender.

The new law was drafted with input from numerous groups, including the African-American Affairs Commission, the NAACP, the Civil Liberties Union, the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, and the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. DeCarlo said he and Dyson wanted to “make it as inclusive as possible.”

The proposal was signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy on June 5.

Courtney journalism campUnder the new reporting rules, each local police department will be required to record the race, ethnicity, gender and age of every motorist stopped and the nature of the violation that prompted the stop.

Statistics released in early 2011 showed that local police departments in the state reported that of nearly 4,000 traffic stops, almost 27 percent of motorists were African-American, 36 percent were Hispanic, and 13 percent were white, according to a report in the Hartford Courant.

The new law was prompted by recent incidents of racial profiling nationally and in East Haven, which DeCarlo called a “local catalyst to make change.” An East Haven police sergeant and three officers were arrested and convicted on charges related to deprivation of rights, in connection with their alleged harassment and improper treatment of Latinos. The case led Hartford Courant reporter Matt Kauffman to analyze information on racial profiling in Connecticut.

“I was aware that years back, the state had ordered police agencies to collect data on every traffic stop, but learned that no one had ever analyzed the data that was captured,” Kauffman said. His analysis of the data found that both African-American and Hispanic drivers experienced a disproportionate share of traffic stops.

DeCarlo said he hopes that the bill will “serve as a national model” and motivate other states to follow suit.

Kauffman said the legislature’s strengthening of the racial profiling law will produce more extensive data. He said that next year, when new data is released, he plans to “crunch those numbers and get a sense of how we’re doing.”

Courtney Leopold is a senior at New Canaan High School.

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