Published March 03. 2013 4:00AM Updated March 04. 2013 4:43PM
New London - Blacks and Hispanics pulled over by city police are nearly twice as likely as whites to have their vehicles searched, according to an analysis by The Day of motor vehicles stops in 2011.
Minorities accounted for 3,029 traffic stops that year and were searched 203 times, or 6.7 percent of the time. White drivers were pulled over 4,429 times and searched 149 times, or 3.4 percent of the time.
Blacks who were stopped had the highest rate of searches (8 percent), with Hispanics next at 5.4 percent.
Minorities were not over-represented in traffic stops, however, with whites making up more than 58 percent of the stops, compared with Hispanics and blacks at about 20 percent each.
Acting Police Chief Peter Reichard said race is not a factor when police decide whom to stop or search.
"Each one of those searches - out of anybody who's searched - you have to take it as an individual case and find out what the reason for the search was for," he said. "It's not just a random car stop: 'I'm gonna search this guy and try to find something on him.' You're not allowed to do that, the Constitution won't allow you to do that. We operate within the Constitution of the United States and the State of Connecticut."
The Day analyzed 7,600 "yellow cards," forms that police fill out after a traffic stop. Contained on the index-sized cards is such information as the driver's age, gender and race - but not name and address - and the reason they were stopped. Police departments send the cards to the state African-American Affairs Commission, which is supposed to analyze the data each year to see whether police are stopping drivers based on race.
After a city police officer resigned last year amid allegations that he planted drugs on a black suspect during a 2010 traffic stop - and reacting to what they saw as long-standing racial profiling by city police - NAACP members and residents gathered at several rallies and forums.
Donald Wilson, the New London NAACP chapter president, who was outspoken at the time, said he wasn't surprised that vehicles driven by minorities are searched more often.
"What the data really tells us is that the police are making stops for whatever reason, and based on engagement with the individual, if you're white, there's a 90 percent chance they engage you in conversation and give you a ticket or whatever and let you go," he said. "But if you're a minority, the police will engage you in conversation, and somehow that conversation is going to lead to a search.
"The police are making up a lot of stories to go right into that search and seizure and a lot of minorities were not protesting that," Wilson said. "It's not that they were trying to hide something but that they feared retaliation. You got people who live in a community who feel that they get entrapped or pursued by police."
On his first day in office in December 2011, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio issued an executive order prohibiting police from "the profiling of persons based upon their racial, religious, sexual and/or ethnic background as the sole or primary reason and purpose for any stop, or as the sole or primary reason and purpose for establishing probable cause."
"We can police effectively, proactively and aggressively while simultaneously making sure we do it the right way and respect people's civil rights and work in an honorable fashion and with integrity," Finizio said in an interview.
Similar to 2001 analysis
While the racial makeup of drivers in the city on any given day is unknown, minorities don't appear to be over-represented in traffic stops when compared to the most recent U.S.Census data.
Whites, who make up 49 percent of the city's population, represented more than 58 percent of the traffic stops. Hispanics, who make up 28 percent of the population, and blacks, who are 17 percent of the population, represented 21 percent and 19 percent of the stops, respectively.
Of those pulled over, Hispanics were ticketed or arrested 61.6 percent of the time, whites 57.3 percent of the time and blacks 53.2 percent of the time.
But while police stopped 1,400 more vehicles driven by whites than minorities, they searched 54 more vehicles driven by minority drivers than driven by whites, according to the analysis.
A 2001 report compiled by the Chief State's Attorney's Office found no overt signs of profiling, although, as in The Day's analysis, it found racial discrepancies in searches.
Reichard said it would be difficult for him to comment on any data analysis because The Day's numbers are nearly impossible to verify, and he joined the department in May 2012, after the data was collected.
"We need to go over the numbers before we make any determination of what's going on," Reichard said. "Taking a quick snapshot, looking at it, it doesn't appear that (there is profiling), on the surface."
Reichard said his department counted 7,720 yellow cards in 2011, about 130 more than provided to The Day by the African-American Affairs Commission.
Reichard said officers are not allowed to ask a driver his or her race, but rather, make their own observations and record it on the cards. Cards are generally completed shortly after a stop, he said.
In November, the department adopted a "general order" specifically prohibiting profiling. Under the order, the deputy chief's office is required to prepare an annual review of any evidence of profiling culled from complaints against officers or citizen survey comments. If profiling is found, "corrective measures will be employed" including remedial training, counseling or discipline.
Reichard said the department has been diligent about sending its cards monthly to the African-America Affairs Commission in Hartford. Some departments have not submitted cards in several years, Reichard said.
Until mid-2009, the department did not keep copies of the cards it sent. When Chief Margaret Ackley took her position in June 2009, Reichard said, she implemented a system in which every card was scanned into a computer. None of that data has been built into a database, but it is searchable by hand, he said.
Last summer, Reichard said, the department began using new yellow cards that give officers more choices, including whether the car's driver, an occupant or the vehicle itself was searched. The next step could be adding a "resident/non-resident" box so the department can get a better sense of the city's driving population.
Civilians file complaints
Early last year, state and local NAACP chapters held several rallies and town hall forums for community members to talk about racial profiling. Many of the complaints alleged unjustified car searches and rough treatment by city police officers. Several civilian complaints filed with the department over the last few years similarly have criticized the department's treatment of minority suspects.
One man, Lance Goode, has a pending federal lawsuit against the city after he claimed drugs were planted near his car during an October 2010 police search. A video of the incident, Goode claims, shows then-Officer Roger Newton planting a bag of pills. After the video's release, Finizio put Newton on paid administration leave. Newton later resigned.
"We will continue to remain vigilant and continue to enforce policy this administration has brought in with it, that any form of profiling is absolutely wrong and that we will do everything in our power to make sure it's not occurring, and we will hold officers accountable if anyone has operated inappropriately or with bias," Finizio said. "I have demonstrated my willingness to hold officers to account whose conduct I feel has violated our conduct requirements and policies and procedures. It should be seen as a proactive response to address some of the concerns (The Day's) reporting is looking into."
Despite any past discrepancies in stops or searches, Finizio said, the changes he's made are indicative of his continued willingness to update police department policies.
"This is something that never stops," he said. "The police department administration and the mayoral administration should always remain vigilant to ensure the rights of the residents of the City of New London are respected."