Study identifies racial disparities in Darien police traffic stops
An annual study of Connecticut traffic stop data has identified Darien as one of several local police departments with notable racial disparities in their practices from October 2015 through September 2016. The study is conducted each year by the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project in conjunction with state anti-racial profiling policies. This is the first time since the study began in 2013 that Darien is marked as having racial disparities warranting further review.
While Darien Police Department has not been accused of racial profiling, review of the data found that the the department stopped Hispanic drivers at an unusually high rate based on the low number of Hispanic residents in town. Hispanic drivers made up 18.4 percent of Darien traffic stops, which is about 5.4 percent higher than the state average. This represents a notable increase compared to prior years. Comparatively, in 2013-14 and 2014-15 Hispanic drivers made up 15.8 percent and 15.93 percent of all Darien traffic stops, respectively.
Police Chief Ray Osborne said the department is taking the report seriously and will meet with the project managers behind the study to understand more about the findings. However, he said the department feels that some of the statistics do not account for Darien’s location. Some of the markers used for determining racial disparity are based on the local minority population, and the study notes that just 3.5 percent of Darien residents above the driving age are Hispanic.
Darien’s neighboring cities, Stamford and Norwalk, are very diverse in comparison, with Hispanics making up about 23 percent of driving age residents in both cities. Nearly 97 percent of the Hispanic drivers stopped in Darien were non-Darien residents. Chief Osborne attributed this to regular through traffic and the presence of I-95.
“We believe that it is of the utmost importance to treat all people that we encounter with respect and dignity,” Chief Osborne said in a statement. “While we applaud the efforts to ensure public trust in law enforcement, peer review of previous reports has raised questions about some of the methodology used. It is our intention to meet with the project managers of the report in the near future for additional clarification and evaluation."
Other municipalities marked as having racial disparities in their traffic stops include Ridgefield, Newtown, Meriden, Berlin, Norwich, Trumbull, Stratford, East Hartford, Wethersfield and State Police Troop B. Criteria for the finding disparities included the ratio of minority traffic stops based on population, frequency of daytime and nighttime stops for minority drivers and comparison to state averages.
The study states, “the application of a population-based benchmark must implicitly assume that the demographic distribution of these drivers matches the population-based benchmark. The distribution of error associated with this assumption is, again, very likely non-random. Specifically, it seems likely that a town’s proximity to a major highway may impact the level of pass-through commuter traffic from geographies further away from the major highway and, as a result, affect the magnitude of the potential error.”
Chief Osborne said he will use the report as an opportunity to review the department’s policies and reinforce existing training with officers. In July 2016 the department was publicly accused of racial profiling by a black Bridgeport resident who was stopped while bicycling to work. The man filmed his encounter with Darien officers and was not arrested or detained. Police said the stop was a part of a routine investigation of a residential burglary nearby.
However, responses to the video of the stop prompted Congressman Jim Himes to host a public forum on race relations. Shortly after this incident town officials approved an earlier request from the police department for body cameras. With public perception and demands of law enforcement shifting, departments across Connecticut are adopting cameras as a part of their best practices. Previous police chief Duane Lovello first asked for the cameras in Feb. 2016 but some town officials originally felt that they weren’t necessary based on the lack of complaints and litigation against the department.
“Fairness and transparency is essential in law enforcement,” Chief Osborne said in a statement regarding the study. “We are fortunate to live in a diverse region of Fairfield County and we pledge to work hard to maintain the confidence of all people who live, work and travel through our community.”