Report finds no racial disparities in Westport traffic stops

HARTFORD — The findings of a statewide racial profiling traffic stop analysis report released Tuesday showed Westport’s police department did not have major racial disparities in their policing compared to other towns.

However, Westport was among the municipalities with the highest rates of traffic stops. Westport police made 7,461 stops, which came to 384 stops per 1,000 residents according to the report. Of these traffic stops, 22.4 percent were due to cellphone violations.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas said one of the biggest complaints from residents are traffic violations, including speeding, lack of respect for stop signs, and more.

Koskinas said as long as this trend continued, his department would due their due diligence in traffic enforcement.

“It doesn’t always have to be a ticket. It could also be verbal,” he said, adding traffic enforcement was an important way to get the message across.

Almost half of the drivers stopped in Connecticut received an infraction ticket, while 50 percent received either a written or verbal warning, the report said.

Weston only issued infraction tickets in 3.3 percent of all traffic stops, which was the lowest in the state. However, Weston issued warnings 94 percent of the time, which was the highest rate.

Koskinas said there is a direct correlation between motor vehicle enforcement and motor vehicle accidents. In Westport, motor vehicle accidents on public roadways were down by 5 percent from last year thanks to strict enforcement, he said.

Of the traffic stops in Westport in 2017, 22.6 percent involved minorities, which was below the state average; of which 10 percent were African-Americans, and 9 percent were Hispanic drivers.

Koskinas said though the minority population is small in town, Route 1 drew many out-of-town residents, which naturally included more minorities.

“We can’t look at only the small minority of residents here,” he said of the study.

Koskinas also attributed Westport’s results for policing minorities in the study to his department’s training.

“Our diversity training is probably second to none,” he said. “Of course there’s always room for improvement.”

A team from Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy concluded that more work needs to be done to prevent racial disparities in traffic violations throughout the state.

Fairfield and Derby police each underwent a more detailed review of their traffic data after Ken Barone, project manager for IMRP and others from the organization examined more than 542,000 traffic stops statewide.

“We can’t jump to the conclusion that the departments are engaging in profiling because there are disparities,” Barone told the Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board Tuesday morning as he explained the results of the analysis.

The fourth annual CT Racial Profiling Project report examines data gathered from 94 municipal police departments throughout the state, 11 Connecticut State Police troops and two special agencies on traffic stops that occurred in 2017.

The number of traffic stops statewide was down about 70,000 since 2014 due to state police trooper shortages, Barone said.

The team from IMRP is cautiously optimistic that overall statewide police are doing a better job dealing with racial disparities in traffic stops because fewer departments were singled out for greater review based on what appeared to be wide disparities in traffic stops.

Derby, Fairfield and state police Troop K were all flagged for further scrutiny by the authors who applied three benchmark tests to the analysis, including estimated commuter traffic, resident-only stops and the percentage of minority stops compared to the statewide average, the report said.

The two local departments and the state police troop had not been previously identified as having a significant disparity between the number of minority and white drivers who were stopped.

“Racial and ethnic disparities in any traffic stop analysis do not by themselves provide conclusive evidence of racial profiling,” the report noted.

The Stratford, Yale University, Middletown, Bridgeport, Derby, New Haven and Trumbull police departments were among the top 10 in the number of searches during traffic stops. A request for comment placed with New Haven police was not returned.

The Wethersfield Police Department, which shares a border with Hartford, was also flagged as having a disproportionate number of minority stops. Wethersfield data has been scrutinized in several of the previous profiling reports, Baron said.

Derby and Fairfield police worked closely with IMRP to examine the data to determine possible underlying causes, including whether the stops occurred in areas where there is a lot of commuter traffic from out of town.

Overall, 31.5 percent of the drivers stopped by police in Fairfield police were minorities. The town has a minority population of about 10 percent, the report said.

According to traffic data on stops that occurred within the “inter-twilight” period, which is adjusted for the time change and when the sun sets throughout the year, black and Hispanic drivers were 1.6 and 1.3 times more likely to be pulled over in daylight — when police presumably could see the motorist, the report concluded. State police troops C and K were also identified under the same category, the report said.

After reviewing the data, IMRPdetermined that Route 1 and its proximity to Bridgeport was a significant factor in the number of minority stops, Barone said. Overall, 84 percent of the people pulled over in Fairfield were not residents of the town, the report said. Hispanic and black drivers were four times more likely than white drivers to receive a misdemeanor summons as a result of a traffic stop in Fairfield, the report said.

Barone’s team also pointed out that some Fairfield officers did not accurately record the reason for a traffic stop.

“An officer would say the outcome of the stop was a misdemeanor summons for possession of drugs,” said Jim Fazzalaro, also a project manager with IMRP. “There is confusion over what they stopped the vehicle for.”

Fairfield Police Chief Chris Lyddy questioned the population statistics used in the report, but told authors the findings were helpful to the department in a letter sent on June 12.

“In reviewing your report, we found value to the information provided as it relates to the data received from our officers collected during traffic stops,” Lyddy said. Training opportunities would be provided for officers so they can collect the most accurate data, Lyddy said.

Fairfield police issued a lengthy response to the findings of the report on the department’s Facebook page.

“The Fairfield Police Department contends the actual driving population of Fairfield is not accurately depicted throughout the report,” the post said. “As mentioned in the report, ‘Route 1 acts as one of Fairfield’s main thoroughfares where a significant portion of the town’s business and commercial activity is located.’ Additionally, Black Rock Turnpike and areas near the City of Bridgeport also contain many of Fairfield’s commercial businesses. These areas significantly impact the demographics of the driving population, which is substantially different than shown in the 2010 census data utilized in the report.”

Derby Police Chief Gerald Narowski also believed the report underestimated that town’s Hispanic driving population, according to a letter submitted to Barone on June 19.

“Racial bias has no place in policing,” Narowski wrote in the letter.

After meeting with Derby police, Barone concluded that drivers on Route 34, which is a major thoroughfare with a high traffic volume, were more diverse than the town’s population.

“Based on the volume of traffic on Route 34, it makes sense that there would be a higher level of enforcement,” Barone said.

Barone also conceded that new population data revealed that the number of Hispanic residents has increased by 57 percent since the 2010 census, which were the original figures used in compiling statistics for the percentage of minority stops compared to the racial demographic of the town.

About 14 percent of minority drivers received a misdemeanor summons after being pulled over, nearly three times higher than the state average of 5 percent, Barone said.

Darien, Derby, Stratford, Trumbull police were among the nine departments that exceeded the disparity thresholds in more than half of the benchmark tests, which included estimated commuter population, resident-only stops and the statewide average, the report said.

Wallingford police had the highest arrest rates from traffic stops, followed by East Haven, Middletown and Stratford, which were also Wethersfield, Stratford, Darien and Trumbull had the highest percentage of minority stops compared to the minority population in those towns, the report said.