Connecticut Police Must Record Race, Ethnicity of Drivers They Pull Over

Connecticut police office will now be required to jot down the racial makeup of every driver they stop under a bill passed by state lawmakers Monday.

The law is intended to prevent the type of racial profiling that brought negative headlines to places like East Haven, where police officers allegedly waged a campaign against Latino residents.

State lawmakers gave final legislative approval to the bill on Monday, beefing up a 1999 law that was widely ignored by police. The new law imposes penalties if a department fails to comply.

The legislation comes after four East Haven police officers were arrested in January, accused beatings, false arrests and harassment of Latinos who threatened to report misconduct. All have pleaded not guilty.

"There are bad apples in law enforcement, and there's no room for them," said Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, a 22-year veteran on the West Hartford Police Department. "And I believe that this measure today will help identify and eradicate those who choose to racially profile."

The bill passed the House of Representatives on a 142-1 vote. It already passed the Senate, and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he will sign it into law.

It builds on a 1999 law championed by the late Sen. Alvin Penn of Bridgeport, who pushed to require police officers to record the race and ethnicity of drivers they pull over. Over the years, however, less than a third of the state's police departments submitted the information to the General Assembly's African-American Affairs Commission, which did not have the resources to process the data.

Under the latest bill, the state Office of Policy and Management will now oversee the initiative. By July 1, 2013, OPM must develop guidelines for training officers to complete traffic stop forms and for evaluating the data for possible racial profiling. An advisory board, which will include the chief state's attorney, the chief public defender, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association president, representatives from the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and other groups, will advise OPM.

Police departments will have to report the information to OPM beginning Oct. 1, 2013. OPM's secretary is allowed to withhold state funds from a department if it fails to comply.

Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, vice chairman of the legislature's Judiciary Committee, said the data will enable officials to determine if there are patterns when police pull over motorists and whether racial profiling occurs.

Malloy said his administration already has begun taking steps required under the bill, such as creating the advisory group to OPM. He said his office also is developing standardized methods and guidelines to improve the collection of racial profiling data.

"In recent months, I have met with a number of groups to hear their concerns," Malloy said. "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 House members who are racial minorities told personal stories about getting pulled over by police under questionable circumstances and how they advise their children to always drive with the proper licensing and registration.

"Just because of the nature of your race, where you're driving, you still might be harassed in the state of Connecticut," said Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, who is black. He said the new legislation should help racial minorities in the state feel they are "equal citizens" and not have to worry about being harassed while driving a vehicle.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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