The Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved changes to the state's anti-racial-profiling law that proponents say will improve compliance and assure that police departments are held accountable if they mistreat motorists.
Proposed amendments to the Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act, first passed in 1999, would require the Office of Policy and Management to develop a standardized form to be used during police stops, and would shift to OPM the responsibility for analyzing the information gathered on those forms. Since 2003, state law has called on the African-American Affairs Commission to examine and report on police stops, but its officials have repeatedly told legislators they lack the necessary funds and manpower, and the commission has never issued a report.
Last month, the Courant released its own analysis, which showed that black and Hispanic motorists were significantly more likely to receive a ticket or summons after a motor-vehicle stop compared to whites pulled over for the same violation. Some legislators and civil-rights activists said the study provided hard evidence of what they have suspected for years: that minorities face disparate treatment from police. Others said the analysis merely revealed flaws in the state's method of capturing traffic-stop data, and that the higher rates of ticketing were explained by factors other than race and ethnicity.
The bill also seeks to put pressure on police departments to comply with the law. Only about a third of the departments in the state consistently submit their traffic-stop data, and the bill would authorize the Office of Policy and Management to seek sanctions against agencies that aren't complying. Under the current law, the Chief State's Attorney can seek penalties against a department, but that has never happened.
Since the bill's passage in 1999, there has been little public criticism of the process for recording traffic-stop information. But following the Courant's report, the president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association issued a statement that the method was faulty.
"We believe that the entire data collection process is inadequate and flawed," Douglas S. Fuchs, police chief in Redding, said in the statement. The Courant's analysis, he said, "does not, in any way, accurately portray how Connecticut law enforcement across the state conducts business."
Fuchs did not specify what was lacking in the current process, but others have said key information isn't captured by the forms currently used during traffic stops. They say that blacks and Hispanics stopped for a minor offense may more-often be found in violation of a more-serious offense that warrants a ticket. They also say that blacks and Hispanics on average may have worse driving records than whites, which could affect the rate at which they are ticketed. The form, however, captures only the initial basis for the stop and does not record information about a motorist's record. The amendments approved Wednesday do not address those concerns.
The bill also leaves unclear exactly what information police departments are required to submit to the state. Among the departments that have consistently complied with the law, most have submitted a database with information on every motor-vehicle stop. But under both the current and proposed statute, the law requires departments to use the forms to provide a "summary report of the information recorded."
Some police officials have said that has left departments unsure about how much information they are required to provide, and some departments have submitted only tallies of their motor-vehicle stop information, in a format that cannot readily be analyzed.
The bill also would require police to give motorists a copy of the form, which would include instructions on filing a complaint if the motorist believed he or she was stopped solely on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual orientation.
The law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, and the first report from the Office of Policy and Management would be due a year later.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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