Will Connecticut Finally Use Federal Funding To Strengthen Anti-Racial-Profiling Laws?
By Gregory B. Hladky
December 21, 2011
For years, one of the reasons trotted out to explain the abysmal failure of Connecticut's anti-racial-profiling law was the lack of money to pay for collecting data about who cops are stopping and why.
The trouble with that excuse is that $1.2 million in federal money for Connecticut anti-racial-profiling data collection has been sitting untouched since 2006. The federal money had been moldering so long in bureaucratic limbo that state officials were fearful those grants would "expire" unless something was done in a hurry.
Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, now says the feds have agreed that they're "not going to rescind the funding as long as we make a good faith effort" to finally get some kind of program launched. So the DOT (which is acting as the middleman for these federal highway safety grants), the state Office of Policy and Management and other state agencies are scrambling to revise plans for using the money, and arrange for Central Connecticut State University to act as the research arm on the project.
Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel Malloy's top criminal justice adviser, says the Malloy administration didn't know until recently that the money had been "sitting there dormant for like five years."
Connecticut has had an anti-racial-profiling law on the books for 12 years. But confusion over who was supposed to report what to whom — and the fact the law has no penalties for failure to comply — has rendered it impotent. A bill to make the law actually work and to force law enforcement compliance failed during the 2011 General Assembly session, at least in part because of budgetary reasons.
Meanwhile, an investigation by the U.S. Dept. of Justice has found that East Haven police have targeted Latinos in traffic stops, and civil-rights activists are warning state taxpayers could be on the hook for big lawsuit penalties unless Connecticut gets its act together to combat this problem.
According to an Oct. 12, 2011, state e-mail from the DOT's Pamela Sucato to Lawlor, the feds awarded the DOT's Highway Safety Office $600,000 in 2006 and another $600,000 in 2007. The purpose was "to enact and enforce laws that prohibit the use of racial profiling in traffic-laws enforcement and to maintain and allow public inspection of statistical information regarding the race and ethnicity of the driver and any passengers for each motor vehicle stop in the state. … To date, our Highway Safety Office has been unsuccessful in attempting to assist in the expenditure of these funds in conformance with federal requirements and state statute."
The original anti-profiling law ordered the Chief State's Attorney's Office to collect and report on data provided by local police. But there were no state standards for what should be reported or how, and the top state prosecutor successfully lobbied to get rid of that responsibility. Lawmakers then designated the tiny African-American Affairs Commission as the data collection agency. But the commission's executive director, Glenn Cassis, explains that the federal money is only available as a reimbursement, and the commission didn't have the money to spend up front to qualify.
"We are at a point where the feds will be either looking for a return of the money or a credible path forward," Sucato warned.
Civil-rights activists say they still intend to push for major changes in the anti-racial-profiling law in 2012. Which means all that federal money may finally be of some use.