WNPR

Manchester Police Department Commissioned Report Critical Of State Racial Profiling Data

May 11, 2017

Connecticut's anti-racial profiling law requires police officers to record the details of every traffic stop they initiate -- things like the time of day the stop occurred, the reason for the stop, and the race of the stopped driver. 

That information is then complied by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, or IMRP, into an annual report that looks for signs of racial profiling within a specific department.

In March, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, or CPCA, submitted written testimony opposing a bill that would have expanded Connecticut's anti-racial profiling law. In that testimony, they blasted the work of the IMRP, calling its yearly conclusions "biased" and "flawed."

The CPCA also testified that several Connecticut police departments have initiated their own independent reviews of IMRP traffic data, and every one of those reports concluded that the IMRP reports are "seriously flawed" and based on unscientific assumptions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut sent Freedom of Information requests out of curiosity to every police department in the state, looking for any traffic stop related reports commissioned by the departments.

So far, the FOI requests turned up one: a previously unreleased report from the Manchester Police Department.

After the IMRP's 2015 report found the Manchester Police Department had "consistent disparities that may indicate the presence of racial and ethnic bias," the department paid an outside researcher $5,000 to analyze the IMRP's data.

A concurrent report by Dr. Brian Withrow of Texas State University found a host of problems with the IMRP's methodology.

Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy spoke with WNPR about the TSU report, why he decided to keep it a secret, and his reaction to the IMRP report that found potential racial bias within his department.

Marc Montminy, Manchester Police Chief.
Credit Manchester Police Department

Marc Montminy: We were concerned. No one wants to stamp out racial bias more than we. And so I took a real long, hard look, and even met with the people who had written the report, and found some of their methodology lacking.

For example, one of the statistics was how you compare to your two other towns of similar size and demographics. Our pool of peers included Newington, Farmington, and Trumbull, who have no similarity whatsoever to Manchester. But I was concerned about certain things like the fact that they were using years-old demographic information. They were using a census from years ago.

If you know anything about Manchester, our demographics are changing rapidly. It was concerning that I think they were using the 2010 federal census as a comparison to 2015-2016 data.

I didn't object to the state's initial report. I simply wanted to know more. We had some books here at the police department on police and racial profiling. And one of the books was written by this guy by the name of Dr. Withrow, who I'd never met before in my life. But we read his book, and he had some interesting insights into racial profiling and police, and we ended up contracting with him to review the state's analysis.

WNPR's Ray Hardman: Let's back up for a second. As you know, there was also a follow-up report. At that point, were you changing how officers were making traffic stops?

No. What we did is we did an analysis of what we do inside to make sure that there was no implicit bias anywhere in our process. So, when the second report came out -- if you remember in the second report, they actually identify individuals -- they had one specific person from Manchester, and they came to visit us, and they said, "Hey, look ,you know we have this report prepared. We are about to release it, and it mentions a specific officer in Manchester."

When they mentioned to us who the officer was, we were all dumbfounded. This officer volunteers to work in the most difficult neighborhood that we have, crime-wise. He donates his time socially off-work in that same population. The people in his jurisdiction, in his beat, love him, and the minority employees here at the police department could not believe for a second that he was the person that they had identified.

So we we gave them all this information to Ken Barone [policy director of the IMRP] and company, and they agreed with us. They told us that the report was going to indicate that this particular anomaly was explainable, but that's not what the final report said. Apparently the commission told them no.

You must have felt pretty strongly about this to hire Withrow to do this.

Well, I felt strongly about it from two directions. One, I think I have a moral and social obligation to make sure it doesn't happen. And two, I was unable on my own to find anywhere in town where it was happening.

When you contacted Withrow and commissioned him to do this "shadow" report, what were you hoping the outcome would be?

Well, I was always hoping that he was either going to point out specific areas in which Manchester could improve or question specific methodologies that the state used. I'll point out to you that none of the people who did the state report are statisticians either -- one is an economist; one has a degree in something else, but none of them do this for a living -- whereas Dr. Withrow does.

Where did the money come from to pay Withrow?

That came from the police department budget.

Was it a department discretionary fund?

Yes.

So in the end, it looked like what Withrow did was go after the methodology of the IMRP. Did you gain any other insights into your department through the Withrow report?

I don't know that we really gained insight, but I think he verified that we were on the right track. He verified that in Manchester, we are proactive on this. We did not publish the report when it first came out, and the reason we didn't publish it is because it was intended for us, and since it was critical of the state report, I felt that there would be no benefit to being accusatory towards the state process.

It would have been counterproductive to hold a press conference and say "Aha, see what we've got here?" That wasn't our goal.