New London 'noncompliant' with anti-profiling law

New London - The city's police department is one of just three in the state listed as noncompliant with the newly updated anti-racial profiling law, according to a report presented to state legislators last week.

The progress report is a summary of how departments are adapting to changes in the Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act, which took effect on Oct. 1. The act prohibits law enforcement from stopping, detaining or searching a motorist when the stop is motivated by the race, color, ethnicity or sexual orientation of the driver.

New London, according to the report, only recently updated its method of collecting data on traffic stops to comply with the law and has yet to take advantage of state-funded technology that allows the monthly electronic transfer of collected data to the Criminal Justice Information System, as required by law.

The report was issued by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University on behalf of the Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board.

Ken Barone, a policy and research specialist who has worked with departments to bring them up to speed on the new law, said its aim is to have a standardized way of not only recording traffic stop information, but submitting it electronically for later analysis.

Whenever a traffic stop is made, police record information about the officer's perception of the driver's race or ethnicity. In addition, drivers who are stopped must be given notice of their right to file a complaint either at the department or with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities if they feel they are being profiled.

The original law governing the recording of traffic stop data took effect in 1999. Barone said the law never was all that effective because the data was collected on paper forms and sometimes was submitted for analysis to the African-American Affairs Commission in Hartford - and sometimes was not. Either way, he said, it was a cumbersome task for anyone trying to analyze the data.

The indictment of several police officers in West Haven on federal civil rights violations helped spur changes to the law and a renewed commitment to analyze the data.

A new mandate requires that the data be submitted electronically. Because resources are scarce, Barone said, every department in the state was offered money to comply either by updating their current Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing System computers or by using a web-based program.

"There really is no excuse in our minds for anyone not to be compliant with that part of the law," he said.

Barone said New London's situation is of concern because there is no strategy in place to correct its problem.

New London is likely to be the lone department of the 104 agencies required to submit data that will not have its information included in a July 1 statewide analysis.

"We reached out to all three," Barone said. "Suffield and West Haven worked very hard and quickly to make the corrections. New London now seems to be the only department not to have a strategy. … They seem to be struggling. New London has a fair way to go to be in compliance."

The city's Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said the department has been collecting data, more than what is required by the state, but it has hit a snag with its outdated computer system.

He said the department's vendor, SunGard, has been unable to make the proper upgrades to allow for transmittal of the data. Instead, he said, the department is sending the data in Excel spreadsheet format.

Reichard said there is a pending request for funds, about $7,800, to upgrade the department's system.

"It's a technology issue," he said. "We're working on a DOS-based system. Nobody is using that anymore. Eventually, if we go to a regional-based dispatch, all of that will be replaced."

New London was listed alongside Suffield and West Haven departments as noncompliant.

The city's was one of numerous departments to receive state training about the new law last summer, Barone said.

Tamara Lanier, an NAACP advisory board representative who has in the past voiced her concerns over treatment of citizens by New London police officers, said, "what is most troubling, irrespective of the police in the field, is that this is an administrative responsibility."

"This speaks to a larger problem for me," she said. "This is the law. This is what is required by the law."

Barone said that in addition to New London's electronic submission issue, it took until March 1 for the department to collect the correct traffic stop information on its paper forms, the so-called yellow cards. The information being recorded on New London's cards was outdated, he said.

For example, Barone said, officers used to be able to check an "unknown" category when recording their perception of the driver's race. Under the old law, the race of the driver was to be recorded before the driver got out of the car. The modified forms now allow an officer to interact with the driver before recording racial information, and the unknown category has been removed.

New London is among a handful of departments that still use paper forms, Barone said. Most have a way to record the data electronically, eliminating a later transcription of the information.

Police departments in Bethel, Groton Long Point and New Haven were listed as partially compliant with the Alvin W. Penn Act, though the report indicates that all three agencies will be in full compliance by April 1.

"This is the first report and although we have made great strides, there is a long way to go to rectify the larger concerns that have been brought to light by the public and members of the advisory board," Advisor Board Co-Chairman William Dyson said in a press statement. "We recognize there have been some difficulties in gaining full compliance with the law, and we will resolve these problems as we continue working collectively to eradicate profiling in the state."

g.smith@theday.com

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