Study cites dis­par­i­ties in traf­fic-stop rates

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Cedar At­tana­sio and Tara O’Neill

In a wide-rang­ing re­port on traf­fic stops re­leased Thurs­day, Cen­tral Con­necti­cut State Uni­ver­sity re­searchers flagged a num­ber of po­lice depart­ments in the state for dis­par­i­ties in en­force­ment that might in­di­cate racial bias.

In “Traf­fic Stop Data Anal­y­sis and Find­ings, 201516,” re­searchers de­ter­mined State Po­lice Troop B in North Canaan and lo­cal po­lice depart­ments in Ber­lin, Mon­roe, New­town, Nor­wich, Ridge­field and Darien had “sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant” dis­par­i­ties in traf­fic stops of mi­nori­ties com­pared with stops of whites.

The au­thors of the re­port — which tracked over­all town-by-town pull-over rates — said those agen­cies that were noted for racial dis­par­i­ties would be an­a­lyzed fur­ther. The num­bers used in the study come

from po­lice data com­piled from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016.

One way the study ex­am­ined pos­si­ble bias was by com­par­ing stops dur­ing the day and those at night — when po­lice are less likely to dis­cern a driver’s race be­fore pulling a ve­hi­cle over.

In Nor­walk, the study in­di­cated, His­panic driv­ers were stopped dur­ing the day at a rate that was 2.3 times their rate of be­ing stopped at night.

The study also looked ve­hi­cle-search suc­cess rates, also known as “hit rates,” that mea­sure how of­ten peo­ple are searched in a traf­fic stop against how of­ten con­tra­band is found.

White driv­ers who were searched af­ter be­ing stopped in Mon­roe were found with con­tra­band 42.9 per­cent of the time, while black driv­ers were found with con­tra­band only 8.3 per­cent of the time.

The study’s au­thors in­di­cated those re­sults might sug­gest more than one con­clu­sion.

“Po­lice of­fi­cers make de­ci­sions to search in an ef­fort to max­i­mize their ex­pec­ta­tions of find­ing con­tra­band,” the study’s text said. “The im­pli­ca­tion be­ing that po­lice will be more likely to search a group that has a higher prob­a­bil­ity of car­ry­ing con­tra­band ... In turn, mo­torists from the tar­geted de­mog­ra­phy un­der­stand this as­pect of po­lice be­hav­ior and re­spond by low­er­ing their rate of car­ry­ing con­tra­band.”

Mon­roe Chief of Po­lice John Sal­va­tore said his depart­ment would look into the re­port’s con­clu­sions.

“Speak­ing for my depart­ment, we hire good peo­ple,” Sal­va­tore said. “We train them well and they’re out there do­ing what they think is the right thing and the proper thing. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not go­ing to be look­ing at what is in this re­port.”

Sal­va­tore said he has con­cerns about the re­port’s meth­ods. He said it ap­peared that as­sess­ments of driv­ing pop­u­la­tions in the study did not fac­tor in those pass­ing through from other towns and cities.

Oth­ers took is­sue with the study, too.

In a writ­ten doc­u­ment dated Sept. 7, to the pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut Po­lice Chiefs As­so­ci­a­tion, Stephen M. Cox, a pro­fes­sor in the crim­i­nol­ogy and crim­i­nal jus­tice depart­ment at CCSU, pointed to prob­lems with the re­port as part of a peer re­view of one por­tion con­cern­ing 2014-15.

One point of con­tention for Cox was the way re­searchers de­ter­mined the num­ber of driv­ers in a given mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

“The use of pop­u­la­tion­based bench­marks and de­scrip­tive sta­tis­tics to ap­prox­i­mate towns’ driv­ing pop­u­la­tions has weak­nesses and are not rec­om­mended to be used nor pre­sented in these re­ports,” Cox wrote.

The re­port said Con­necti­cut State Po­lice likely ex­hib­ited the “largest and most per­sis­tent dis­par­i­ties” in the day/night stop tests. The agency also had very low “hit rates” across all mi­nor­ity groups.

Trooper Kelly Grant, a spokes­woman for Con­necti­cut State Po­lice, said the ma­te­rial in the re­port would be care­fully re­viewed.

“We look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our years of co­op­er­a­tion ... to ad­dress any con­cerns raised by the re­sults and to ac­count for the many vari­ables that are in­her­ent in this re­search,” Grant said. “We trust that, as in years past, fur­ther anal­y­sis of the data in con­junc­tion with the re­search team will pro­vide a rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion for any ap­par­ently out­ly­ing re­sults.”

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

A new re­port stops sin­gles out six lo­cal depart­ments and a state po­lice troop for hav­ing higher rates of pulling over mi­nori­ties.

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