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Keeping Cops in Check

Councilman Luis Cotto wants anti-profiling requirements

Daniel D’Ambrosio

July 01, 2010

Growing up in Hartford, City Councilman Luis Cotto recalls piling into the family car with his mom and dad and four sisters and heading out for a road trip. The Cottos, who are Puerto Rican, knew as they traveled outside of Hartford’s city limits on Route 44 they would inevitably be stopped.

“It was expected to get stopped on 44 on the way to Barkhamsted or wherever,” says Cotto. “They would harass my father a little bit and then we moved on.”

Cotto says racial profiling remains a problem not only in Hartford but across the state.

“There’s no doubt there is racial profiling within police departments everywhere in the state, including Hartford,” he says.

Cotto’s assertions were echoed at a forum held in the Legislative Office Building last week by the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the African-American Affairs Commission.

State’s Attorney Gail Hardy, who moderated the forum, opened by asking Assistant Chief Neil Dryfe of the Hartford Police Department to characterize the “nature of the relationship” between Hartford police and the community.

“I wish it was easy to say we have a great relationship,” answered Dryfe. “I cannot sit here and tell you there’s never been a racial incident between Hartford police and the community.”

But Dryfe also pointed out that police are typically “injected” into situations that are out of control already, making bad outcomes sometimes difficult to avoid.

State Rep. Hector Robles (D-Hartford), who has been a Hartford cop for 15 years, says children in the city are often raised by parents who mistrust the police and who pass that mistrust on to their kids.

“We have to develop a better relationship to move forward,” said Robles.

Lt. Col. Steven Fields of the state police was more blunt, saying kids don’t even respect their own parents, much less the cops.

“We don’t need to be treated differently but we need a level of respect they’re not willing to give,” said Fields.

But state Sen. Eric Coleman, (D-Hartford) said that in the past, Hartford police had adopted a “zookeeper mentality” toward the city, presiding over chaos and keeping outsiders out.

“The police are challenged to recognize not every young African-American and Latino is necessarily a member of a gang, and three black males in a car are not necessarily doing a drug deal,” Coleman said.

Cotto is currently working on a new article for the Hartford Municipal Code that would place limits on intelligence collection and profiling by police.

Gathering intelligence without a warrant would also be “strictly prohibited” under Cotto’s new article, and police would not be allowed to demand your I.D. without a “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” Hartford cops would also be prevented from providing support for “immigration enforcement activities in coordination with federal officials,” and local jails could not be used to detain people on suspected immigration violations.

Cotto hopes to introduce his measure at the first city council meeting in August, and plans to meet with Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts beforehand to get his feedback on the proposed changes.

“We’re not out to get anybody. We just want to end up with a really good police force,” says Cotto.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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