The state House of Representatives on Monday gave final legislative approval to a bill that strengthens the state’s existing law on racial profiling – which critics say is not being adequately enforced.
The measure cleared the chamber by a vote of 142 to 1. Rep. John Piscopo, a Republican from Thomaston, cast the lone no vote. The state Senate had passed the bill last month; it now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has said he intends to sign it into law.
“More than 10 years ago, as the Mayor of Stamford, I was proud to stand with the men and women of the Stamford Police Department on Martin Luther King Day to announce that we did not tolerate racial profiling and would lead the efforts to ensure its elimination,” Malloy said in a statement following the vote. “As Governor, I will continue to insist that every effort is taken to protect individual rights in every community and that racial profiling is eliminated.”
Malloy added: “This is a real problem that deserves a real solution, and my administration is committed to carrying out the spirit and letter of this law.”
Several lawmakers shared personal stories about their own brushes with profiling.
Republican Rep. Penny Bacchiochi invoked the experiences of her children: her two sons are white and her four step-sons are African-American. “I can tell you I worry so much more about the four black step-sons than I do about my white son when they drive,” she said. “If they both have broken tailights, we’re quite confident which one will be pulled over.”
The bill aims to reduce profiling by police officers during traffic stops in Connecticut. It requires the state to create a standardized form to record information from traffic stops – which does not exist now – and calls for creating a racial profiling prohibition advisory board.
The items that must be included on the standardized form are the race, age, gender, color, sexual orientation, and ethnicity of the driver, as well as the name and badge number of the officer. Currently, some officers record the information but others do not.
“There’s no room whatsoever in law enforcement for racial profiling,” said Rep. Joe Verrengia, a Democrat from West Hartford and a member of that town’s police department. “In many ways, the law enforcement community is no different than other professions…there are bad apples in law enforcement and there’s no room for them. I believe this measure today will help identify and eradicate those who chose to racially profile.”
The measure is Senate Bill 364, known as “An Act Concerning Traffic Stop Information.”
One of the differences with the current law is that the racial information will be collected by the governor’s budget office – the Office of Policy and Management – instead of the African American Affairs Commission, a far smaller agency with fewer resources and staff members to analyze the data.
The state Senate previously approved the bill by 31 to 3 with three Republicans – Kevin Witkos of Canton, Joseph Markley of Southington, and Len Suzio of Meriden – against.
Rep. John Shaban, a Republican attorney from Redding who serves on the judiciary committee, said Monday that some of the African-American members of his semi-professional football team were concerned about driving through certain towns in Connecticut because they thought they would be stopped by the police.
“Racial profiling is an issue,” Shaban said on the House floor.
Rep. Richard Smith said, ”One would wonder why we would need such a bill in this day and age. … Until, one day, we can eliminate the need for this type of bill, I stand in support.”
But Rep. Al Adinolfi of Cheshire said he would vote in favor of the bill, but said that it “could lead to racial profiling in reverse” if the racial-profiling review board is made up completely of minority members.
There is a debate over whether the current law is being followed by police. The Senate Democrats say that only 27 of the 92 local police departments are in compliance with the law. Some small communities do not have a full police department and instead are patrolled by a resident state trooper.
The president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, Douglas Fuchs of Redding, does not agree that few departments are complying, adding that racial profiling data do not “accurately portray how Connecticut law enforcement across the state conducts business.”
After the racial profiling law was initially passed more than 10 years ago, the state’s then-top criminal prosecutor said the initial statistics compiled by police did not show a demonstrated pattern of bias against minorities.
“We did not find a pattern of racial profiling,” Chief State’s Attorney John M. Bailey said at the time. “Minority drivers do not appear to be treated systematically any different than non-minority drivers.”
But Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams said recently, “Racial profiling is a problem in Connecticut and throughout the United States. … It’s time to strengthen” the law.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven said there have been instances of ”profiling of black individuals by a black cop.”
Rep. James Albis of East Haven said that he does not want other communities to run into the same problems as his hometown, where four officers have been arrested after a lengthy investigation by the FBI into discrimination by police against Latinos.
Rep. Kelvin Roldan, a Hartford Democrat, said the East Haven situation helped push the need for the bill this year. The measure ”should have been implemented quite some time ago,” he said, adding that he has “personally felt” racial profiling.
In 1996, state Sen. Alvin Penn said that he was racially profiled in Trumbull. By 1999, the state had passed a profiling bill that later became known as the Alvin Penn racial profiling law.