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Connecticut lawmakers: Put teeth in law to prevent racial profiling by police

Monday, March 5, 2012

By Mary E. O’Leary, Topics Editor
 

HARTFORD — Lawmakers Monday called for a major overhaul of the law set up to monitor for racial profiling by police, a statute that has essentially been ignored since it was enacted nearly a decade ago.

The urgency of updating the statute and providing necessary funding was emphasized after recent reports of profiling of Latinos by police in East Haven and a separate news analysis by the Hartford Courant that found significant disparities between how whites and minorities are treated in traffic stops.

Isaias Tomas Diaz, chairman of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said the findings are “seriously undermining” the credibility of police departments across the state.

An angry state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, asked why this wasn’t fixed in 2011 when the issue never got out of committee. “There are people within and outside this building who kept us from achieving what we needed to achieve last year,” he said.

See more photos from the press conference here.

“This is an issue about whether all the citizens of the state are treated the same, whether our skin criminalizes us. This is an issue about who this state is,” said Holder-Winfield, who is chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.

“When men and women who are tasked with enforcing the law, can decide that the law, which is on the books, they will or won’t follow because they decide that those laws don’t work, or they are cumbersome to follow. … Then our system is in peril. Then it is not just an issue of black people, brown people, Muslim people … it is an issue that affects all of us,” Holder-Winfield said.

The representative said he was tired of “people in this state, who don’t happen to be of the majority population, having to worry about the police.”
 

Holder-Winfield said not all police behave like this and he personally has no problem with “profiling done correctly,” such as describing a suspect with more specificity than he or she is black.

He said advocates want a law passed that has teeth, is effective and protects everyone. The proposed changes will be in a bill set to come from the Judiciary Committee.

Diaz said collection, analysis and interpretation of the seldom reported traffic stop data by the African American Affairs Commission was undermined by a lack of personnel and funding.

There were also problems with the lack of a standardized format and no consequences for ignoring the law.

The commission and its supporters are calling for an independent monitoring team appointed by Michael Lawlor, who is in charge of criminal justice issues for the Office of Policy and Management, to oversee compliance.

Diaz said OPM would be in a position to withdraw funds from police departments who were not following the statute. “The power of the purse,” Diaz said, would be the enforcement mechanism.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is on the record saying all law enforcement agencies should provide additional instruction to avoid problems of racial profiling and other forms of bias policing.

The proposed overhaul would codify Malloy’s recommendation and allow citizens to send their confidential complaints to an agency, such as the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity.

It would also seek creation of an oversight committee to evaluate the proper implementation of the new law and state resources to conduct an independent analysis of traffic stop data, as well as a biennial report until the state rolls out a new system.

The Alvin Penn Anti Racial Profiling Law, named for the now deceased Bridgeport lawmaker who proposed it, was adopted in 1999. The requirement that all departments send their data for review was effective in 2003, but it was largely ignored by departments when it was not analyzed.

None of the lawmakers who spoke were surprised with the findings of the Courant, which looked at 100,000 traffic stops in a dozen towns in 2011.

For tail light problems, of 2,600 stops, it found that black drivers were twice as likely to be ticketed and Hispanics four times as often as whites.

The newspaper said the biggest discrepancies affected Hispanic drivers, who were more often ticketed than whites and blacks in 13 categories. It reported black drivers were ticketed more often than whites in 10 of the 13 categories.

Adam Osmond, a private citizen from Farmington, reported that on two separate instances, one in Farmington and one in Newington, both he and his wife, on police reports, were checked as white, rather than black.

He said he was upset with the inaccurate reporting and wondered what other mistakes were contained in such documents. Osmond speculated the incorrect racial description was done to keep the towns’ numbers low on who was being stopped.

Mary L. Sanders, one of several people who joined a live chat with the New Haven Register during the press conference, said it was important to give a copy of a traffic stop report to the motorist.

“Officers lying on the forms will lead to corrupt data; a way to encourage officers to be honest with the demographics is to have them give a copy to the motorist. The form will include info on how to file a complaint should one feel profiled,” said Sanders, who is a member of the Community Party that works on economic justice and criminal reform issues.

State Rep. Juan Candeloria, D-New Haven, said the recent reports on racial profiling show it is much more serious than they had imagined.

“When you talk about disparities, not only are we concerned about the disparities of the achievement gap, now we have to be concerned about disparities on the road. This is not disparity, this is pure discrimination,” Candeloria said.

Barbara Fair, an activist in New Haven, who also participated in the online chat, said it’s difficult to train people not to be racist.

“In New Haven it is second nature. You know if you are black or Latino you are likely to be pulled over for some reason or another. It’s a way of life. You can have all the training you want. You can’t train or legislate someone nursed on racism to suddenly stop,” Fair said.

Ronna Stuller, another Community Party member, said there have been complaints about the cost of providing copies of police reports to the public, but she said it doesn’t have to be high tech. “Carbon paper would be OK.”

Candeloria wants to see the Alvin Penn act fully funded and all police departments brought into compliance. “I’m here to ensure my constituency and all the minorities in the state of Connecticut that we as legislators will ensure that this problem is resolved this session – not next session, not in the future, not tomorrow. This needs to end now,” Candeloria said.

Muhammad Ansari of the Greater Hartford NAACP said this data verifies what they have known along.

He asked that the state come up with a comprehensive plan to address it. Beyond that, he wants the U.S. Justice Department to investigate profiling here.

Jesse Grant, who joined the Register’s chat, said the state should “identify police officers, departments and cities that are obviously targeting minorities …, and take corrective measures that may include termination to send a clear message that this inequity in justice must stop.”

Sanders encouraged people to attend the March 12 hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to comment on the issue or at least write to their legislators that they support a tougher law.

Glenn Cassis, executive director of the African-American Affairs Commission, would like to see intense sensitivity training mandated for departments that racially profile citizens.

Asked if he was disappointed with the data, Diaz said no because the state now has “blatant evidence” it is occurring.

“Sometimes people look at minority communities and say they are just crying wolf… People can now see that this is really going on. People are not just making this up,” Diaz said.

State Rep. Kelvin Roldan, D-Hartford, said the problem is one of culture and everyday practice in some, but not all, police departments. He said it could have been prevented if the state had taken seriously the profiling law.

Roldan would like the state appoint a special master and take over departments that engage in profiling.

© 2012 nhregister.com, a Journal Register Property

 

 


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