Norwich police flagged in latest statewide traffic stop analysis

Hartford — Norwich police have come under scrutiny with the release of a report Thursday showing that they disproportionately stopped Hispanic motorists during hours when their racial characteristics could be identified.

Analysis in the third annual state-mandated traffic stop analysis flagged the Norwich Police Department's traffic enforcement as statistically significant. According to the analysis — an undertaking of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, or CTRP3 — Hispanics from Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30, 2016, were 1.6 times more likely to be stopped in Norwich during the day than at night, even after researchers controlled for several factors. (They filtered out violations such as lights that are more likely to be discovered at night, for example, and also checked to see whether one or two officers' actions were skewing the entire department's numbers.)

The numbers were derived using the “veil of darkness” test, which assumes officers can more easily determine a person’s race when it’s light outside. According to the report, researchers with the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University were almost 100 percent sure of the disparity in Norwich.

In his presentation at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, project manager Ken Barone emphasized that such racial and ethnic disparities don’t by themselves provide proof of racial profiling. But they do warrant further analysis, he said.

In the coming months, Barone and the CTRP3 team will visit with one state police troop and six municipal departments, including Norwich, to learn more about what might have led to the disparities in their traffic stops this time around.

Speaking by phone Thursday, Norwich police Chief Pat Daley said he was surprised his department landed on the list but ready to fully cooperate with CTRP3 officials.

Norwich, it should be noted, also was mentioned in the first-ever CTRP3 report of 2015, but at the time it was listed at the lowest level of concern. For that reason, CTRP3 didn't pursue a follow-up that year.

Daley said it’s early in the process, but it’s possible the city’s diversity and “destination traffic” — or those who use Norwich’s roads to get to nearby casinos — could have contributed to the disparity.

He also noted that the force actively carries out grant programs such as Click it or Ticket, and that it’s up to officers to make a judgment call when recording a person’s ethnicity because they aren’t allowed to ask.

“I’m not making excuses,” Daley said, “but this is a tough one to figure out.”

“Obviously we’re going to take these concerns seriously,” he continued. “We’re going to drill down and figure out the cause of these numbers.”

The next steps

Daley now is living what Groton Town police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Jr. did a couple years back, when his department landed on the “needs further review” list.

In his follow-up meetings with CTRP3 representatives, Fusaro was able to show how the Naval Submarine Base, Electric Boat and Pfizer Corp. make Groton’s driving population unique.

Fusaro also learned of an issue where more than 6,000 stops were recorded as happening at midnight even though most hadn’t occurred at that time. That issue has since been resolved.

In year two, Groton Town was not identified as a department warranting further study.

Fusaro now sits on CTRP3’s Advisory Board, one of two representatives from the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association.

“The chiefs are supportive of this effort,” he said Thursday, “but we want to make sure we get it right.”

Fusaro said three experts reviewed the first two studies conducted by CTRP3 and, briefly speaking, found flaws in the veil of darkness analysis and a lack of information about the methodology researchers used.

Because of that, Fusaro aligned with the association's overall stance, which is that it supports the study, but "can no longer accept the information provided at face value."

Fusaro also said it would be advisable for CTRP3 to do its follow-up investigations before releasing the names of problem departments.

If that had been done in Groton, he said, “they would have identified the anomalies in our town” and might not have included Groton in the first place.

Tamara Lanier, a Norwich resident who sits on CTRP3’s Advisory Board as a representative of the Connecticut National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she was surprised to see Norwich on the list.

As she has with other departments pinpointed in the studies, Lanier plans to reach out to the president of the Norwich NAACP so the local chapter can approach the police department about the findings.

Lanier said she wants open and frequent communication to create an environment where police departments, instead of being defensive, ask "How can we do better?" when they land on one of CTRP3’s lists.

Lanier also hopes to help organize pre-emptive education for the state’s police officers so departments stop landing on the lists.

“We all have biases — most of the time without thinking about it,” she said. “It’s not until you reach a certain level of awareness that you’re able to identify and modify the behaviors that come with that.”

This year’s traffic stop analysis covered more than 560,000 stops from 106 law enforcement agencies. In addition to pinpointing various departments under the veil of darkness, the study also found that departments across the state continue to be more likely to search minorities and less likely to find contraband on them.

It’s an issue ACLU-CT President David McGuire on Thursday urged the board to discuss further.

“Biased traffic enforcement undermines faith in our democracy,” he said. “Connecticut must adopt independent oversight of police to end unjust police practices like biased traffic stops, and it must start enforcing its existing police accountability laws.”

Barone spent a large portion of Thursday morning explaining how and why each department is reviewed in 41 different ways before CTRP3 draws any conclusions. The goal, he said, is to identify only those departments with the most significant disparities across multiple measures.

But the analysis, Barone said, is the easy part.

“What we’ve done today is simple,” he said. “We’ve identified disparities.”

“Step two is where the hard work begins,” he continued. “And that is trying to figure out what’s going on. Why do these disparities exist, and to what degree do law enforcement have control over them?”

l.boyle@theday.com



November 2017 Connecticut Racial Profiling Report (PDF)

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