New Milford racial profiling data examined

Photo of Katrina Koerting

NEW MILFORD — Last year, New Milford was one of 10 Connecticut police agencies flagged for pulling over a higher percentage of minority drivers compared to the proportion of minorities in the town.

But in a more comprehensive, follow-up report released last week, officials conclude the higher diversity of drivers on routes 7 and 202 is more a factor for the disparity than possible racial profiling by the New Milford Police Department.

“After a full review, the disparities do not appear excessive in nature, but the department would benefit from a periodic review of traffic enforcement policies as they relate to enforcement activity on Danbury Road in order to evaluate the extent to which they may have a disproportionate impact on minority drivers,” the follow-up report states.

Both reports are part of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, run by Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy.

“The evidence of inequitable policing is clear,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said in a statement on the new report. “Now, the question is what our state will do to end these outdated traffic enforcement priorities, which do nothing for public safety but contribute to injustice.”

The main goal of the follow-up report was to determine if the disparities identified last year were a result of the department’s practices or individual officers, as well as what influenced the traffic-stop policy. In addition to the data used in the first report, the new report included conversations with the departments, looked at the officers who made the stops and examined where the stops were made.

When the original report was published in May 2016, Mayor David Gronbach and police officials said the disparity was most likely due to the non-resident traffic on the town’s major roads. In the report, New Milford police officials said the disparities exist because more people are coming into town and using Danbury Road for shopping, dining or entertainment.

“We always maintained that the unique nature of Route 7 as a major travel artery was the main factor in any statistical anomaly,” Gronbach said Friday. “The chief and I take such issues very seriously and we are confident that our current training and oversight is effective in avoiding bias in traffic stops.”

The original report examined all Connecticut traffic stops between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015. The report found 14.1 percent of drivers stopped statewide during that time were black and 12.5 percent were Hispanic.

During this time, New Milford made 3,895 traffic stops. Of these, 15.1 percent involved a minority driver; 9.7 percent involved a Hispanic driver and 4.3 percent involving a black driver. According to the 2010 Census, about 8 percent of the town’s driving population is minority.

“On its face, this might suggest a wide disparity in the proportion of minority drivers stopped during the study period, the new report states. “However, the racial and ethnic makeup of different areas of New Milford varies significantly by census tract, so the disparities were more pronounced in some areas compared to others.”

Major thoroughfares contribute

The two enforcement areas with the biggest disparities were along or near routes 7 and 202, where the majority of traffic stops were made during the period of the study. At least 58 percent of the drivers stopped on these two roads were non-resident minorities.

According to the report, a black or Hispanic driver was more likely to be pulled over than a white driver.

The stops of black and Hispanic drivers tended to be concentrated on the southern half of Route 7 and in the center of town. Most of the traffic enforcement happens there because of the high volume of traffic, according to the report.

Of the total number of drivers stopped in town, 46 percent were New Milford residents. Of those residents, 12 percent were minority, which the report says is proportionally higher than the town’s demographics, but “it is also clear that non-residents contribute to the overall racial disparity in New Milford stop data,” according to the report.

Forty-four New Milford officers made traffic stops during this period with 12 making more than 100 stops each, accounting for 70 percent of all stops in town. Of these, four made more than 300 stops each, or about 43 percent of all stops, according to the report.

Three main reasons for officers making traffic stops were speeding violations, cellphone use and defective lighting.

About 51 percent of the speeding stops were made using speed-enforcement technology, such as license plate readers or radar. When these tools were used, the breakdown of stops was 81 percent white, 5 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic. The racial demographics for other speed-related stops was 85 percent white, 4 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic.

“While white drivers were stopped more frequently than black or Hispanic drivers for cellphone violations, black and Hispanic drivers were stopped at a higher rate for speeding violations,” the report states.

About 1.3 percent of drivers pulled over had their vehicles searched, which is lower than the state average of 2.9 percent.

Black drivers were searched at three times the rate of white drivers, while Hispanic drivers were searched at only a slightly higher rate than white drivers. Contraband was found at a higher rate with black and Hispanic drivers, but given the relatively small number of searches conducted, the report states these differences are insignificant.