Study questions whether minorities are subject to traffic stops more often than whites

Data on traffic stops released by a Central Connecticut State University research institute may suggest a number of Connecticut police departments pull over minority drivers at a higher rate than whites. The analysis also shows minorities are more likely to be pulled over at higher rates during the daylight hours, when a driver’s race and ethnicity are visible.
However, police officials across the state have questioned whether the study draws fair conclusions about racial profiling.
According to a press release from CCSU, the nearest town to show “racial and ethnic disparities” in pulling over drivers was Stratford.
It was one of seven towns, including Wethersfield, Hamden, Manchester, New Britain, Waterbury, and East Hartford that “were found to have consistent disparities that may indicate the presence of racial and ethnic bias according to the four descriptive measures used to evaluate racial and ethnic disparities.”
Five other towns — Groton, Granby, Waterbury, and State Police Troop C (Hartford) and Troop H (Tolland) — were found to have “significant” rather than “consistent” disparities, meaning there is more substantial evidence to suggest those departments have racial profiling problems.
“Although we find results at the state level, it is important to note that it is specific officers and departments that are driving these statewide trends,” the report reads.
Ken Barone, one of the primary researchers with the Connecticut Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, said Tuesday evening any town that pulled over racial minorities at a rate 10 percentage points higher than the state average was “identified as an outlier” with consistent disparities.
In one test used by the study, Stratford pulled over minority drivers at a rate 15% higher than the state average.
In Wilton, police pulled over 4.42% fewer minority drivers than the state average.
Officials including Stratford Police Chief Patrick Ridenhour have said they believe the study is flawed because the estimated driving population — a hybrid measure that takes into account an area’s resident population as well as its working population — is an unfair measure of a town’s actual driving population.
“… we do have some concerns with the calculations and interpretations of our motor vehicle enforcement activities, especially with regard to our estimated driving population,” a press release quoting Ridenhour said.
However, the Stratford Police Department failed three additional tests used in the study which did not involve the estimated driving population at all.
“We’ve come to a point where we’ve said: ‘we’ll agree to disagree,’” about the estimated driving population measurement, Barone said. “This is one of the reasons we used seven different tests to measure the data,” he said.
Barone said the new report, which includes information on every municipality in Connecticut from October 2013 to September 2014, uses only one test involving the controversial measurement technique.
Three other “descriptive” tests used, instead of estimated driving population, are: resident population over 16, a statewide average, and a peer group comparison. Stratford failed each of these.
The remaining three tests are “the strongest statistical tests,” which Stratford passed. They include a comparison against the “veil of darkness,” racial pull-over data when the inside of a car can be easily seen and when it cannot be, and a hit-rate analysis, which includes the search rates of vehicles and the rate of illegal contraband found. The last is a hybrid of the two.
“We’ve said, ‘OK, if you don’t believe the estimated driving population is a strong indicator, which is something we disagree on, then throw it out.’ The same towns still show up on the list” of communities with racial disparities, Barone said.
Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs, however, has said any of the tests used in this report are still flawed because they rely on assumptions regarding the driving population of a town, whether or not they use the estimated driving population as a benchmark.
“Knowing who police are stopping without knowing who is actually on the roads is not a useful tool for police chiefs across the state or any other individual or group seeking to gain a greater understanding of the issue,” he said.
“The census data for an individual community is not [enough], the census data plus employment data is not [enough] either.”
This is the first analysis since changes to the Alvin W. Penn Act went into effect in October 2013 to improve and strengthen 1999 legislation intended to remedy racial profiling concerns brought on by federal allegations, a press release from CCSU says.
Mike Lawlor, of the Office of Policy Management said in March there are no “penalties” against police departments “involved in this at all. They’re not penalized or graded.”