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Hartford - New data show that Connecticut police pull over black and Hispanic drivers at disproportionate rates when compared with population numbers, but state officials caution the reasons aren't clear.
Police officers statewide made nearly 304,000 traffic stops from October to April. About 14 percent of the stops involved black drivers and 12 percent involved Hispanics.
According to census figures, nearly 8 percent of Connecticut residents who are old enough to drive are black and 9.7 percent are Hispanic.Whites 16 and older comprise about 84 percent of the state population.
Asian drivers, meanwhile, got stopped at a lower rate when compared with the population. About 1.1 percent of traffic stops involved Asians over 16, who comprise 3.6 percent of the population.
The numbers were compiled by researchers at Central Connecticut State University under a revamped state law designed to prevent racial profiling by police. A new computer system went live in November and began collecting a wide range of traffic stop data from all 106 police agencies in the state, including the race, ethnicity and sex of drivers, the reason for the stop and any enforcement actions taken.
"The question is what's driving it," said Michael Lawlor, state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, referring to the higher minority traffic stop numbers. "You really have to drill down several levels (of data) to determine if there's a problem or not."
Those several levels of data are expected to be released next month in the first full report from the new information system. The report will include data from every police agency, and the public will be able to go online and view all the numbers. Officials released only the statewide totals on Thursday.
Kenneth Barone, a researcher at Central Connecticut State, said there could be many reasons why minorities are pulled over at higher rates. For example, he said, a police supervisor in one part of a city may place a stronger emphasis on traffic stops than a supervisor in another part, which could skew total numbers for the entire city.
Former state Rep. William Dyson, a Democrat from New Haven, said there is certainly a perception in minority communities that police target blacks and Hispanics for traffic stops more than they do whites. But he said it's too early to tell from the new numbers whether there are racial profiling problems in the state.
The racial profiling law was approved in 1999 and named after the late state Sen. Alvin Penn of Bridgeport, who pushed to require police officers to record the race and ethnicity of drivers they pull over. But the effort failed in the following years when less than a third of police departments in the state submitted the information as required to the state African-American Affairs Commission, which did not have the resources to process the data.
The legislature and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy overhauled the law in 2012.