Connecticut lawmakers joined civil rights groups at the capitol Monday to call for an overhaul of the state’s racial profiling law.
This follows a federal investigation into discriminatory policing in East Haven, and a separate racial profiling report by the Hartford Courant.
In December 2011, a US Department of Justice investigation determined that East Haven police target Latinos for discriminatory traffic enforcement and treat them more harshly than non-Latino drivers. Four police officers were arrested on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation.
Then in February, a Hartford Courant report found that black and Hispanic drivers statewide are more likely to be issued a ticket or court date after a traffic stop than white motorists pulled over for the same offense.
Isaias Diaz is chairman of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. "I’m very fair skinned even though I’m Puerto Rican so if I drive through the back roads of Avon cause I’m dreaming big and thinking about purchasing a home, I’m not going to get pulled over probably. But everyone should have the same rights."
Connecticut’s Alvin Penn law, enacted in 1999, prohibits racial profiling. It requires local police departments to collect traffic stop data and report them to the state. But Diaz says few departments do. "There needs to be somebody who is in charge of getting all the police departments compliant. Right now we only have about 20%. And we need to put it in a tangible form that the average person can look at the data and see it. And number three is we need a commitment from the state with regard to funding."
Representative Gary Holder-Winfield, chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, says when men and woman charged with enforcing the law decide which ones they will or won’t follow, the system is in peril. "And then it is not just an issue of black people, brown people, Muslim people, whichever people we’re talking about. Then it is an issue that affects all of us. We want a law passed that has teeth, that is effective and that protects all the citizens of the state."
Advocates say strengthening the Alvin Penn law would also benefit police by providing a shield from future litigation.