Wilton’s police department made the fifth-highest number of traffic stops of all municipal police departments in the state in 2017, but drivers were far more likely to receive a warning rather than a ticket.

That is according to the Traffic Stop Data Analysis and Findings report for 2017 released June 25, 2019. It is part of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project.

The study was put together by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy (IMRP) at Central Connecticut State University. State law forbids any law enforcement agency from stopping, detaining, or searching motorists when the stop is motivated solely by the race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, or sexual orientation of the person involved.

The study compiled and analyzed 542,000 traffic stops from Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2017, made by 94 municipal police departments and 11 state police troops.

Wilton reported 5,219 traffic stops, which translated into 402 stops per 1,000 residents based on a driving population of 12,973.

Three neighboring towns topped Wilton:

New Canaan — 5,492 stops — 388 per 1,000 residents.

Westport — 7,461 stops — 384 per 1,000 residents.

Ridgefield — 6,733 stops — 372 per 1,000 residents.

Leading the pack was Windsor with 8,485 stops — 365 per 1,000 residents — based on a driving population of 23,222.

The Bulletin reached out to the police department seeking comment, and Chief John Lynch responded, saying via email, “the Wilton Police Department takes traffic safety seriously and has a long-standing history of being committed to motor vehicle enforcement. We believe motor vehicle stops promote safe driving, high visibility and results in a safer community overall.

“The surrounding towns also have a high number of motor vehicle stops when compared to other municipalities in the state,” he added. “Not all municipalities have the resources or commitment to motor vehicle enforcement. The percentages listed in the report are based upon averages of all police departments in the state. This results in general averages that may be skewed when reviewing departments that are committed to motor vehicle enforcement and traffic safety.

“A positive result of high visibility and traffic enforcement is the lower number of accidents we experienced in 2017,” he said.

Of all the stops Wilton police made, the greatest percentage — 30.9 percent — was speed-related.

This was followed by:


  • Defective lights — 19.3 percent.

  • Moving violations — 10.8 percent.

  • Traffic control signal — 8.9 percent.

  • Cell phone — 8 percent.

  • Registration — 7.2 perent.

  • Stop sign — 6.4 percent.


Under 3 percent were display of plates, equipment violation, seatbelt, administrative offense, STC violation, unlicensed operation, window tint, other.

Although just under 31 percent of Wilton’s traffic stops were for speeding, that was not the greatest percentage statewide. That title belongs to Ledyard, where 63.5 percent of its 2,191 traffic stops was for speeding.

Locally, Ridgefield and Weston were also up there. Of Ridgefield’s 6,733 total stops, 57.9 percent were for speeding. Weston police made 611 traffic stops of which 57.8 percent were for speeding.

The average municipal police department stops for speeding violations was 26 percent.

Wilton also exceeded the statewide combined average for stopping motorists for things like defective lights, excessive window tint (2.2 percent) and display of plate (1.8 percent) violations. At 23.3 percent, this is nearly twice the state average of 13.1 percent.

Wilton is not alone in this regard since it was joined by 59 other municipal departments. While these are possible violations of state law, the report says making such stops “leaves the police officer with considerable discretion with respect to actually making the stop.”

To this, Lynch said, “equipment violations tend to be obvious so I am not surprised that we would have a higher number of these types of motor vehicle stops. Some have termed these as ‘discretionary’ stops. We strive to address all violations, with many of them being discretionary on the part of the officer.

“In that spirit in mind the purpose of the report is to identify possible issues associated with racial profiling. The Wilton Police Department does not use racial profiling and it is clearly a prohibited and illegal activity. We monitor officer activity to ensure we are compliant,” he said.

“The 2017 report … identifies many aspects with ‘discretionary’ stops as one component of the overall data. The report summary makes it very clear that the statistical data evaluation identifies ‘tendencies’ which could possibly show improper conduct if the department has several of the indicators. Wilton is not referenced in the other criteria areas and therefore not considered as a department that participates in racial profiling. To label or reference a police department as participating in racial profiling based upon one statistic would be irresponsible.”


Consequences

According to the report, 43 percent of drivers stopped in Connecticut received a ticket, while 50 percent received a written or verbal warning. The range, however, was wide. Danbury police wrote tickets in 64 percent of all traffic stops, which was the highest, while Weston issued tickets in just 3.3 percent of stops, which was the lowest.

State police officers not assigned to a troop issued the greatest percentage of tickets — 89 percent.

In Wilton, 80.8 percent of traffic stops resulted in a warning, 14.5 percent in an infraction, 0.5 percent in an arrest, and 3.2 percent in a misdemeanor summons. There was no disposition in 1.1 percent of stops.

Statewide, fewer than 1 percent of all traffic stops resulted in the driver being arrested.

During the study period, 3.2 percent of stops resulted in a vehicle being searched. In Wilton, 139 or 2.7 percent of the 5,219 traffic stops resulted in a vehicle search.

“There are approximately 30,000 vehicle trips daily at the north and south borders of Wilton (Route 7).,” Lynch said. “This is a high volume of traffic through the heart of Wilton each day. Many of those motorists are from other towns using Wilton roadways to travel to and from work. With that comes the need to be visible and to address violations such as aggressive driving, distracted driving and equipment violations.

“In the majority of equipment violation stops, the motorist is issued a warning with the goal of ensuring there are no further problems. The contact also serves to alert the motorist to the violation and to make the necessary repair(s). In some cases, the motorist is unaware there is an issue. We do not look to ‘penalize’ motorists with our focus on promoting a ‘positive’ contact which is usually appreciated by the motorist,” Lynch said.


Minority drivers

The statewide percentage of drivers stopped by police who were described as minority was 30.6 percent. In Wilton, that number was 29.3 percent.

Of the stops made by Wilton police, 10.1 percent involved black drivers, 14.3 percent involved Hispanic drivers.

Police departments in several towns and cities were cited for needing further examination of their minority stops, but Wilton was not among them.