Racial profiling topic of New London forum

New London — Police in Connecticut make on average 550,000 motor vehicle stops in a year and data collected since 2013 shows race and ethnicity is a factor in traffic enforcement.

That fact was the backdrop for a community conversation focused on racial profiling during a forum hosted Wednesday by the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project.

Racial profiling wasn’t the only topic raised during a frank discussion attended by more than two dozen people at the Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut.

Attendees discussed racial discrimination, implicit bias and at one point asked several questions regarding the relationship between slave patrols and the current policing system — the latter a subject that the moderator, retired New Haven state Rep. William Dyson, said was “something to think about” but one he “wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.”

But Dyson said the conversations being stimulated during these forums would help make a difference as the state seeks to tackle the problem of racial profiling.

Four studies have been conducted on the traffic stop data from 107 law enforcement agencies that show 31 police departments with statistically significant disparities.

“What we need to do is broach the subject,” Dyson said. “Is this a panacea? No. Is it a beginning? Yes. Are people putting forward the effort to try and make things better? Yes. Are they doing it fast enough? Ahh, maybe. The point is it’s not being swept under the rug. It’s not being ignored. We’re trying our best to deal with it.”

The Racial Profiling Prohibition Project advisory board was created to help oversee implementation of the state’s anti-racial profiling law, the Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act. The act prohibits police from stopping, detaining or searching any motorist solely on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, age, gender or sexual orientation.

The series of forums, like the one held Wednesday, are designed to provide the opportunity for an open discussion.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to use data to better inform the conversation with the end goal of trying to improve trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” said Ken Barone, project manager for the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University.

“We know historically that trust between black and Hispanic communities and law enforcement has not been as high between the white community,” Barone said. “The goal is to get equity. So, conversations like this I think help get us to that place of improved trust.”

The forum included a panel that comprised local and state officials, New London police Capt. Brian Wright, Groton Town police Chief L.J. Fusaro, state Rep. Anthony Nolan, New London NAACP Vice President Tamara Lanier, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Narducci, community representative Michael Edwards and Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities Deputy Director Cheryl Sharp.

g.smith@theday.com

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