Racial profiling? Cops stop more Latino drivers in daylight, study says

Ridgefield police are more likely to pull over Latino drivers in town during daylight hours than at night, when a driver’s ethnicity becomes harder to distinguish, a new report says.

A study by the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project analyzed statewide traffic stops from October 2015 through September 2016 and showed that police in town were 2.5 times more likely to stop a Latino driver during the day than at night.

The department “made 19.2 percent minority stops of which 11.3 percent were Hispanic and 5 percent were Black motorists” during that same period, the report said.

“We certainly don’t believe any of our officers are involved in racially profiling — we wouldn’t tolerate it,” Maj. Stephen Brown of the Ridgefield Police Department told The Press Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Brown heads up the department’s internal affairs and is tasked with investigating any formal complaints made against officers.

“The disparity tells us we need to analyze this,” Brown said.

He stressed that the study does not say that the statistics show evidence of racial profiling in the department. Brown added that the department will meet with Ken Barone, one of the authors of the study, in December to try to find out what’s driving that disparity.

In surrounding towns, he told The Press, departments that looked into the report’s findings have found that the increase in minority traffic stops was the result of traffic safety programs.

Those programs target high-traffic areas of state roads, Brown said, pointing to one possible cause for a higher number of minority traffic stops.

Complaints

Brown said that in the past 10 years, there have only been two incidents in which anyone formally complained that a Ridgefield police officer had stopped them as a result of racial profiling.

Both were “completely unfounded,” he said.

One involved a 911 call in which the caller reported a delivery truck driving erratically across the yellow line, Brown said, so the officer did not make the decision to pull the driver over on his own.

In another incident, which received a formal complaint based on racial profiling, Brown said the officer on the scene did not know the driver’s race at the time of the traffic stop.

“We take them very seriously,” Brown said of complaints submitted to the department. “In this profession, we have to be fair.”

“We have to train our officers, and ask them to be responsive to the community. And I think our actions speak for themselves.”

Brown said town police officers will be taking training courses on “unconscious bias” with the Daigle Law Group of Southington either in December or early next year.

The training had been on the department’s calendar prior to the report’s release, he said.

Penn Act

Racial profiling of suspects was made illegal in Connecticut in 1999 after the high-profile traffic stop of state Sen. Alvin W. Penn, a prominent African American politician from Bridgeport.

The law, which bears Penn’s name, states that law enforcement agencies are prohibited from “stopping, detaining, or searching motorists … motivated solely by considerations of the race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, or sexual orientation of that individual.”

Brown said the department has been sending reports of traffic stops to the state since the law was enacted.

Officers are directed by the state to write down what they believe a motorist’s race to be, the major said.

“We don’t require our officers to ask, nor do we want them to,” he said.

The law was revised in 2012, after a widely publicized case in which the Justice Department arrested several East Haven officers following a long-term investigation into the department’s profiling of the city’s Latino residents.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he thought part of the reason for the discrepancy is that more Latino workers are on the road commuting to jobs in Ridgefield during the day than at night.

“That’s when you have your greatest number of Hispanics versus other people on the road,” Marconi said. “Ridgefield, I would guess, being part of the greater Danbury area, has a lower Hispanic population than Danbury.”

Marconi compared that experience to that of many of Ridgefield’s early Italian residents, who “came into this country based on reports that there was work in Ridgefield,” he said.

Not unlike the day laborers who commute from Danbury, they “then went to work in landscaping.”

He pointed out that even during the daytime, it would be difficult for an officer to determine the ethnicity of a driver in a speeding car — especially in a car with tinted windows. He also questioned whether the study had looked at how many Hispanic or Latino motorists were issued tickets compared to their white counterparts.

“I would be surprised if that were the case,” Marconi said.

“It’s good for us to double check.”

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