CT Senate Votes to Put Teeth in Racial Profiling LawBy Phillip Smith | StopTheDrugWar.org April 23, 2012
HARTFORD, CT — The Connecticut Senate last Thursday passed a bill to strengthen the state’s 12-year-old racial profiling reporting, which some senators said was not being followed by police. The bill, Senate Bill 364, passed on a 31-3 vote.
The original racial profiling law was pushed by then-Senator Alvin Penn, who spoke out loudly against racial profiling. Penn said he himself had been stopped by police for no reason except for his skin color. Penn died of pancreatic cancer in 2003.
That law required police departments to report on each traffic stop, noting the driver’s race and the reason for the stop. In the first six months the law was in effect, police wrote 315,000 reports, and a 2001 study of those reports found that while blacks accounted for only 8% of the state’s population, they accounted for 12% of the traffic stops.
Still, the state’s top prosecutor said at the time that the numbers did not suggest racial profiling.
“We did not find a pattern of racial profiling,” said then Chief State’s Attorney John M. Bailey. “Minority drivers do not appear to be treated systematically any different than non-minority drivers.”
In the decade since then, the issue has quietly festered while police departments quietly quit reporting. According to Senate Democrats, only 27 of the state’s 92 police departments are complying with the law.
Last week, the head of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, Douglas Fuchs, told the Hartford Courant that most departments were complying with the law. He added that racial profiling data does not “accurately portray how Connecticut law enforcement across the state conducts business,” although he did not explain why not.
But former state Rep. Michael Lawlor, who is now Gov. Dan Malloy’s (D) chief criminal justice advisor, disagreed. “The fact of racial profiling is very real. Almost every African-American has a story like that [of profiling], and very few white people do. It’s real.”
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams (D) also disagreed, saying, “Racial profiling is a problem in Connecticut and throughout the United States. … It’s time to strengthen” the law.
The vast majority of his colleagues agreed with Williams, with only three Republicans voting against the measure. The new bill beefs up the law by requiring a standardized form from all departments, requiring reports to go to the governor’s office instead of the African American Affairs Commission, and creating an advisory board to oversee compliance with the law.
The bill has now been placed on the House calendar.