State says Ridgefield police don’t show race bias problem

Is Ridgefield — a mostly white and wealthy suburb where police made 6,733 traffic stops in 2017 — the kind of place where minority drivers are more likely to be pulled over?

Ridgefield is not identified as a town with a policing problem by the State of Connecticut’s 2017 Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, Traffic Stop Data Analysis and Findings, a 250-page report released in late June.

And Police Chief Jeff Kreitz is adamant that Ridgefield’s police are race-neutral in their enforcement.

“Our officers continue to serve and protect the Town of Ridgefield with the utmost professionalism and without prejudice,” Kreitz said in a statement to The Press. “As the Chief of Police I applaud them for their continued dedication and commitment. I would also like to thank the residents of Ridgefield for their continued support.

“We strive to be just and fair and we value the trust of the public,” Kreitz said. “The Traffic Stop Data Analysis and Findings provide us with a tool to foster transparency with the residents of Ridgefield and Connecticut.”

Numbers gleaned from the statistics-filled report do suggest that in Ridgefield, like most other Connecticut towns, blacks, Hispanics and other minority drivers are stopped by police at rates slightly higher than their percentage of the town’s driving-age population or, more significantly, their percentage of the “estimated driving population” — which is a projection of the people driving on Ridgefield roads during high-volume morning and afternoon commuter hours, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and again from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Black drivers made up 5.6 percent of traffic stops in Ridgefield in 2017, the report shows, while blacks represented 2.7 percent of the “estimated driving population” on Ridgefield roads during peak commuting hours, and make up just 0.8 percent of Ridgefield residents 16 years and older — the town’s driving age of population.

Hispanics made up 11.3 percent of drivers stopped in Ridgefield in 2017, according to the report, while Hispanics make up 6.7 percent of the estimated driving population during commuter hours, and 3.5 percent of the town’s driving age population.

All minorities — a category which includes Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans as well as blacks and Hispanics — accounted for 20.3 percent of drivers stopped in Ridgefield in 2017, while making up 13.1 percent of the estimated driving population on town roads during commuter hours and 7.3% of town residents age 16 and older.

‘No significant disparity’

Professor Ken Barone of Central Connecticut State University, project manager for the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy and one of the 2017 racial profiling study’s four authors, confirms that the traffic stop data in the report do not raise a concern about Ridgefield’s policing practices.

“It’s important to note that when researchers ran the more rigorous statistical analysis — we do also run a robust statistical analysis which is really considered, at least in our opinion, nationally the most rigorous way to test for discrepancies — and those tests have not indicated that Ridgefield has a problem,” Barone told The Press.

“When we run through this rigorous set of tests, Ridgefield isn’t identified and there isn’t any cause for concern.”

Chief Kreitz agreed.

“There is no statistically significant disparity found in the traffic stop data analysis for the Town of Ridgefield,” he said.

Barone said it isn’t unusual for the number of minority drivers stopped to run slightly ahead of minority population numbers — both the estimated driving population on the roads and the resident driving-age population.

“The disparities are not big in a lot of places. It’s common to see disparities the size that we saw in Ridgefield, which were fairly small,” he said. “They are disparities but they’re within the margin of error.”

Higher percentage

Without passing judgment the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project’s statewide report on traffic stops in 2017 did find that minorities were a higher percentage of the people stopped by Ridgefield police than the percentage of the people driving on town roads, or of the town’s driving age population.

But the report, released in June 2019, also found that the same was true statewide — and the margins of difference between the town’s numbers and the state’s weren’t viewed as “statistically significant disparities” calling attention to Ridgefield’s policing practices.

Minorities made up 20.3% of Ridgefield traffic stops, the report found, while making up 7.3% of the town’s driving age population. Statewide, all minorities made up 30.6% of traffic stops, and 25.2% of the driving age population. The report doesn’t contain a calculation of the “estimated driving population” statewide.

The 250-page report contains charts and charts full of statistics. The report shows that statewide, drivers stopped were 66.4 percent white, 16.3 percent black, 14.2 percent Hispanic and 3.1% other. In Ridgefield, drivers stopped were 79.7 percent white, 5.6 percent black, 11.3 percent Hispanic and 3.4 percent other.

The report singled out four Connecticut communities — Fairfield, Derby, Meriden and Wethersfield — where the statistics on minority traffic stops were judged significant, resulting in a closer examination of policing in those communities.

In an interview with The Press, Chief Kreitz said that one factor in Ridgefield’s percentage of minority stops running above its percentage of minorities in the “estimated driving population” was that a large amount of the department’s enforcement activities take place on Route 7 — a regional highway where the percentage of minority drivers might be higher than in the estimated driving population town roads in general.

Fourth highest

A variety of race-neutral statistics were also revealed in the numbers-laden report.

Ridgefield had the fourth highest overall rate of traffic stops in 2017, with 6,733 stops and a driving-age population of 18,111 — for a rate of 372 stops per 1,000 residents of driving age. The statewide average was 192 stops per 1,000 residents over 16.

“We are in the top percentage for traffic stops per number of residents which shows our agencies continued commitment to roadway safety,” Chief Kreitz said.

The three towns ahead of Ridgefield for the number of stops, comparative to driving-age population, were: Wilton, with 402 stops per 1,000 residents; New Canaan, at 388; and Westport at 384 stops per 1,000 residents 16 and older.

At the other end of the spectrum were Middlebury with six stops per 1,000 residents, Wolcott with nine, Shelton with 18 and Bridgeport with 21 stops per 1,000 driving age residents.

“The level of and reason for traffic stop enforcement varies greatly across agencies throughout the state for a number of reasons,” the report says. “For example, some enforcement is targeted to prevent accidents in dangerous areas, combat increased criminal activity, or respond to complaints from citizens.

“Those agencies with active traffic units produce a higher volume of traffic stops. The rate of traffic stops per 1,000 residents in the population helps to compare the stop activity between agencies. The five municipal police agencies with the highest stop rate per 1,000 residents are Wilton, New Canaan, Westport, Ridgefield, and Windsor. Conversely, Middlebury, Wolcott, Shelton, Bridgeport and Meriden have the lowest rate of stops per 1,000 residents.”

Speeding stops

The report also looks at the reasons given for various traffic stops.

Ridgefield had the third highest rate of speeding stops in the state, according to the report, with 57.9 percent of some 6,733 stops attributed to speeding violations.

Ridgefield’s rate of speeding stops, at 57.9 percent, was behind only Ledyard (63.5 percent) and Connecticut State Police headquarters (58.8 percent).

The high number of speeding stops was an issue Kreitz raised as an indication that the department’s enforcement practices are race-neutral.

“Nearly 58 percent of traffic stops made by Ridgefield Officers are speed related,” Kreitz said. “Speed related stops are referred to as ‘blind enforcement’ which is defined in the study as techniques, such as radar and laser speed enforcement, in which the officer does not know the race of the operator.

“It should be noted that one of the most frequent complaints that we receive from our residents is speeding and unsafe operation of motor vehicles,” he added. “As always we address the concerns of our stakeholders and enforce and educate accordingly.”

Besides the 57.9 percent of stops due to speeding, the breakdown of other reasons cited as the basis for Ridgefield traffic stops includes: 11.9 percent, cell phone; 7.6 percent, defective lights; 6.9 percent, registration; 5.7 percent stop sign violations; 2.7 percent, traffic control signals; 1.8 percent, seat belt; 1.6 percent, other; 1.5 percent, moving violation; 0. 6 percent, window tint; 0.2 percent, unlicensed operation; 0.1 percent, display of plates; 0.1 percent, administrative offenses; 0.0 percent, equipment violation.

“It should also be noted that the amount of motor vehicle accidents in the town, to include those involving injuries and fatalities continues to decline,” Chief Kreitz said. “This is a direct result of our enforcement and education efforts.”