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An Anti-Racial-Profiling Law Gets Another Chance In 2012

By Gregory B. Hladky

December 14, 2011

There's a certain Catch-22 aspect to Connecticut's impotent anti-racial-profiling law. It's never worked, but simply because this 12-year-old state statute exists, local cities and towns can't enact their own local anti-profiling ordinances.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury investigates alleged racial profiling by cops in East Haven, a top-ranking African-American state official gets questioned by Hartford police for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is on the hunt in Connecticut.

A bill in this year's legislature to actually force law enforcement to report racial statistics on who gets stopped for searches or traffic violations was shunted into oblivion, in part because of the ongoing fiscal crisis.

The only good news is that 2012 could be the year when somebody finally does something about this dysfunctional mess.

There appears to be momentum developing among lawmakers, community activist groups and even within Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration to pass anti-profiling legislation that could actually work.

Malloy's top criminal-justice adviser, Michael Lawlor, says racial profiling is a real problem that deserves a real response.

Andrew Schneider, head of Connecticut ACLU, says he believes "there's a good chance to pass it this time around. There's a lot of concern about this issue and people are looking for a solution."

People thought a solution had been found in 1999 when lawmakers passed the anti-profiling Penn Act, named for the late state Sen. Alvin Penn of Bridgeport. An African-American, Penn told of being stopped by white suburban cops, apparently for no other reason than he was a black man driving through a white neighborhood.

The Penn Act required police to adopt anti-profiling policies and collect and report data on the number, color, ethnicity, gender and age of people stopped for traffic violations and searches. The records were to be sent to the Chief State's Attorney's Office, which would send in annual reports to the governor and the legislature.

Except little of that happened. Police complained there were no standards for policies or for how to report data, and that the whole thing was unnecessary and expensive. The law didn't force compliance.

Hartford City Councilman Luis Cotto says his bid to pass a city anti-racial-profiling ordinance was snuffed out because the state law was on the books and took precedence over any local action.

Lawlor says the Malloy administration didn't oppose the 2011 legislation. But he also points out that no one, in a time of massive budget problems, was offering to find the $200,000 to $300,000 a year that would be needed to cover the costs of compiling the data on racial profiling.

"It's a small and smart investment," Schneider says of the potential cost to taxpayers. "If this isn't handled properly, it will result in lawsuits, and it will cost the state much, much more."

The consensus is that, this time, Connecticut needs a law that won't be ignored.

"If you make it look like you're doing something but don't do anything, that's a cheat," says Lawlor. "And that's what we've been doing for the past 12 years."

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