Study finds disparities in traffic stops of Hispanics in Ridgefield and Newtown
Published 4:35 pm, Thursday, November 9, 2017
If you’re Hispanic, you are more likely to be pulled over by police in Ridgefield, Newtown and New Milford during the day than you are at night, when it’s harder to make out a driver’s features.
That is according to a new statewide analysis by a group of researchers working for the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project.
While researchers stop short of accusing the three towns of racial profiling, the experts do say that the disparity in daytime and nighttime pullover rates for Hispanics is a “statistically significant disparity” that warrants more investigation.
“[I]f police officers are profiling motorists, they are more likely to do so during daylight hours when race and ethnicity are more easily determined,” say the researchers from the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University, who have been tracking traffic stop data for three years. “This analytical approach is considered to be the most rigorous and broadly applicable of all the tests presented in this report.”
Police in Newtown and Ridgefield said they could not immediately explain why there was a higher rate of stops of Hispanic drivers during the day than at night, except to say that racial profiling was not the reason.
“Our police officers are not engaged in any type of explicit profiling,” Newtown Police Chief James Viadero said. “I take pride in how well our officers work with the community.”
Both towns pledged to work with researchers to investigate the reason for the disparity. A follow-up meeting was planned with researchers in Newtown on Wednesday, Viadero said.
In Ridgefield, First Selectman Rudi Marconi said there is a large daily influx of Hispanic day laborers who work in the restaurant and landscaping industries, which may explain why more Hispanics are being stopped than the town’s resident population of Hispanics would suggest.
Still, Marconi said, “This serves as a good warning and a good opportunity to see if there is something we can fix, if there is a problem. And it is a good opportunity to remind people that racial profiling is wrong.”
New Milford police were cited in an earlier 2016 report by the same group for potential racial profiling activity when researchers found 15 percent of police stops involved minorities. Blacks and Hispanics account for only 8 percent of New Milford’s population, the report said.
At the time, New Milford Police Chief Shawn Boyne pledged to investigate the findings with the report’s authors and fix problems that he found.
New Milford police did not respond to two requests for comment on Thursday. Outgoing Mayor David Gronbach did not return calls seeking a reaction.
The latest report, released Thursday, analyzed 560,000 traffic stops statewide from October 2015 to September 2016.
It found red flags in three other municipalities - Berlin, Norwich and Monroe — as well as the state police’s Troop B in northwest Connecticut.
In New Milford, researchers said, the odds that Hispanic motorists would be stopped during the day were 1.8 times larger than at night. In Newtown, Hispanics were 2.3 times more likely to be stopped in the day than at night. In Ridgefield, the odds that Hispanics would be stopped during the day were 2.5 times larger than at night, the report said.
Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a Newtown resident of Puerto Rican descent who has been active in Latino affairs, said the report’s findings were not surprising, given Newtown’s aggressive philosophy about traffic stops and the town’s growing Latino population.
“The police department did just employ a Brazilian police officer who speaks Portuguese, so to me that says that things are moving in the right direction,” Bermudez Zimmerman said on Thursday. “But I don’t think this report is surprising.”
The Connecticut Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the report showed the need for independent oversight of police.
“Biased traffic enforcement undermines faith in our democracy,” said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, in a prepared statement. “Local government and state legislators both need to step in and get to work at increasing police accountability and ending racial injustice.”