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CHRO & AAAC Anti-Discrimination Police/Community Forum

Community Party 

Analysis of the CHRO & AAAC Anti-Discrimination Police/Community Forum

24 June, 2010    3:00-5:00pm   Legislative Office Building

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First they said it wasn’t a problem

Then they flipped it—it’s the people that lack respect

Next they say we have laws (unenforced)

Now they admit it happens

And they are “working on it”

Then they switch topic—in true diversion

And finally back to criticism on the community

Racial Profiling – Daniel Malo, 24 June, 2010

In short order, made for show; with requisite back-patting and blame shift.  The forum opened with words from the director of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO).  Mr. Robert Brothers began by telling an anecdote from his police officer days.  It was a routine about rookie cops and cups of coffee. The reaction from the audience—a feigned laughter, the perfunctory kind.  Perhaps an irrelevant joke was not the best way to begin conversation on such a serious issue.

Mr. Glenn Cassis, Executive Director of the African-American Affairs Committee (AAAC), gave a brief statement about the age of the organization and the availability of reading material for the audience.  The focus then turned to the conversation at hand.  From the onset, it was boasted that Connecticut was one of the least racist states, and that very few allegations of racial profiling are received by the state agency tasked to handle them (CHRO).

The CHRO backed up their assertions with a you tube clip, showing the recent immigrant marchers facing harassment from bigots bused in from out of state.  Obviously, the racist behavior in the video was appalling.  But we’re talking about police profiling here.  The recent case of the 17 year old black girl in Seattle being punched in the face by a white officer was brought up.  They declined to show that YouTube clip, however.

The three legislators and four current and former law enforcement officers on the panel went on to say that the community has lost respect for police officers and that in “their day” they would have cooperated fully, without ever questioning officer integrity.  It is the fault of those being arrested—the simply lack respect.  “We need to reach the kids” well, yes obviously, but the issue here is racial profiling.  The issue is not just about “the children!”  What about the kind older lady, Mrs. Sharp, who’s been pulled over on multiple occasions for “driving while black?”

Well, “we have laws against it.”  Agencies report their arrest data, and “this hardly occurs.”  “The media” is partly to blame, for sure, for twisting stories.  Like the members of the panel admit, “cops are human, too.” They even “have feelings.” Yes, I don’t deny that.  I’ve known plenty of law enforcement professionals, and while they are generally dry folks, I’m sure they possess feelings.  For a brief movement, we are reminded of the purpose of the forum: the Penn Act gets a mention, but is summarily dropped.  They are “working on racial profiling.”

It’s about “keeping the kids busy.”  And oh by-the-way—there is a great swimming program—bring the children.  The eloquent speaking gentleman behind me spoke of Conyers and the Civil Rights movement, and then touted the merits of his mentorship organization.  A legislator suggested more cops in school.  The audience suggested the cop actually teaching, rather than just waiting there for a student to arrest.  Respect goes both ways.

Finally, the forum moves to Q & A, which is dominated by agency members, businessmen, and law enforcement professionals.  The community is called out, again, and while I agree that “we are all family” and should treat each other as such, nothing is accomplished here in terms of a discussion about racial profiling.  Amid the intra-agency back-patting and pleasantries, there was just a brief allusion to the fix, once and for all, regarding this issue.  And it’s already in place.

The Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act (PA 03-160), a public act—LAW—in the State of Connecticut IS the fix.  Or anyway, it is supposed to be.  The State’s 110 police departments submit traffic stop data to the AAAC, which analyzes it and reports on findings of racial profiling.  Oddly, for it being a state law, only 27 departments are compliant—and Hartford isn’t one of them.  Again on compliance, the AAAC has been unable to review this data because they “lack the funding.”

I had my hand raised to ask the panel some questions about the Penn Act, but of course, we ran out of time, and I was left hanging.  Raising their hands before me to echo their colleagues on the panel were CHRO agency members and a police officer, who won the ire of the crowd by informing everyone that “there is no law to arrest people for driving while black.”  Your audience is smart enough to know that. Without a doubt, it is read between the lines, an underlying issue ignored due to inadequate examination of the issue.

I wanted to say that the Penn Act needs teeth—otherwise it is just a database of arrest/stop data.  I am of the belief that if you are gonna take personal data, it should be used to an appropriate end.  To what end has the data collected been used?  Why have we played this charade if the answer is already out there—let’s talk about implementation.  Some of the questions I had in mind would answer ‘why, this lazy approach?’, as well as address the reason why only 25% of the States police departments follow the law.

In order:

Assistant Hartford Police Chief Neal Drieff:  Why is the City of Hartford—the State Capitol—not in compliance with this mandate?

Elected officials on the Panel; Reps. Robles and Lawlor, Senator Coleman:  Why is the Penn data not being put to its intended use?

AAAC Executive Director Cassis:  Funding?  To write a report?  College students do it for free… Can’t this be as simple as a Scantron?

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Racial Profiling Data Collection in CT

Rather, the “Shortcomings of Racial Profiling Data Collection in Connecticut”

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Enacted in Connecticut on the first day of January in the year 2000, following a wave of racial profiling legislation throughout the country, the Penn Act, like the laws passed in other states, relies on the collection of data to spot trends in traffic stops. There are items of the Act that are taken for granted; the cooperation of state police agencies to be compliant with the law and the analysis of submitted data to be reported in the manner proscribed. Thus far, the majority of Connecticut police departments are non-compliant and the collected data sits on shelves, in various slips of papers bound by rubber-band, un-analyzed.  There is another serious question about the data collection itself—can offending officers be relied upon to report accurate profiling data when they fill out the form based on their perceptions?  The Penn Act is a start to correcting discriminatory police tactics, but its shortcomings need to be addressed—otherwise the law is a waste of even the half-effort put toward its enforcement—and a failure at ensuring the protected rights of  State residents.

The most troubling aspect one finds when researching the Penn Act is the unwillingness of the Connecticut police departments to comply with State Statute.  According to their 2008 Annual Report, the African-American Affairs Commission (AAAC), the agency charged with analyzing the profiling data, “barely twenty-five percent of the required law enforcement agencies…submitted reports” in that year.  You would figure that the State’s police departments—the lawkeepers of the land—would have a compliancy rating of better than 25%, especially on a highly publicized issue.   Telling is the fact that Hartford’s urban police forces are among the departments that do not submit data.  There is quickness to dismiss the fact that racial profiling even occurs at all.  According to many officers, the issue instead is “a myth,” and if discriminatory intent was perceived, then it was the lack respect towards the peace officer, or probability of criminal cause that led to the police encounter.  There are many thousands of individuals who claim otherwise, and “driving while black” continues to remain a popular phrase, due to its prevalence in daily urban life.  Departments need to work within the law.  Only then, will they receive the respect they claim they aren’t given.

Another failing of the Act is that it doesn’t designate an “official” form or format for the data collection.    According to the AAAC, the data that had been submitted was “received electronically while others were received in several paper formats.”  I have witnessed this first-hand in meetings with AAAC Executive Director Glen Cassis, who when asked about the way the data is collected, left the room and came back with bundles of scraps of papers…of different size, color, font, etc.  Some of the handwriting was impossible to make out on the forms, which dated back (at least as far as I could see) to 2002.  The cost that the AAAC cites as a hindrance in the analysis of this data comes solely from making sense of this jumbled mess.  Sifting through the piles of bundled papers made me realize the need for a uniform method of data collection—starting with the form.  “Some of them come on slips of paper, some on disc . . . some of it’s coded . . . it comes in various shapes and sizes, and it’s difficult to do any kind of comprehensive report,” says Cassis.  Why is paper even used, considering the amount invested in patrol car computers?  Is the data collection issue something that can be solved by Scantron?  Speaking of bubble forms, can’t the analysis and reporting be completed by college students, as has been suggested by State Representative Michael Lawlor?  If the State tells an agency to get something done and they don’t provide the money, they should, at the least, supply ideas on making the process cost effective.

When discussing the Penn Act with other activists and community members, they are astonished that data is even collected in the first place.  The first question many people have asked is “who collects the data?” When told that is the officer who makes the traffic stop, their immediate concern is whether or not an officer who engages in profiling would self-report their own criminal activity.  A good point is also made that officers aren’t necessarily trained to interpret race.  Oftentimes, the ticket that is received is riddled with errors regarding the officers presumed interpretation of race (or religion in some cases, in the states that track that data)—sometimes even gender is inaccurately recorded.  An immediate question is “who is to say…” that the data the officer reports—unseen by the person being pulled over—has accurately been recorded.  This model of data collection carries many fallacies, which, like probable cause (“what is probable cause?”), leave much to interpretation.  What exactly is “officer’s presumption” and what options, if any, are available to individuals who believe they have been racially profiled?

Beyond reporting of the data, there are no ways to spot profiling, accept by anecdote, and then by lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the State Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.  Of these cases, usually only the “surest” go to trial. While they grab attention from the media, they drawn out, and in the course of the wait, a person sometimes suffers from lost employment because of a traffic incident in which they may have been profiled (ex. truck drivers).  There is no immediate recourse available to the victim in this case.  To help overcome this inequity, municipalities in other states such as Oregon and California have requested that the officer’s business card be presented at each traffic stop.  The hope would be to keep the offending officer less likely to engage in profiling, for fear of recrimination by the persons they pull over.  It seems a cheap enough addition to range of alternatives, though there are complaints about the cost of paper.  A less costly method might be to print a line on the bottom of the ticket:  “Do you believe you have been racially profiled?  Tell your story @ www.XYZ.”  The “hotline” webpage could serve as either a un- or low-funded forum simply to broadcast the issue, or as part of a state agency or non-profit organization (hopefully this time, funded).  Academia could well step in, and leave the running of the site to those studying web-design; and the handling of the legal matters to professors, advocates, and those pursuing a law degree.  Fixing the problem of racial profiling doesn’t have to be a slow or expensive process.

The issue of racial profiling first needs acknowledgement by the State’s police forces.  The reality is that racial profiling is not the myth that they have made it out to be.  Rather than dismissing the idea of it, or spinning it to be a “lack of officer respect” outlook on the part of the citizen, police agencies should own up to their role in this ordeal.  If they wish to handle the problem of profiling internally, as is the current “strategy,” those efforts must show results—to the satisfaction of the community that they serve. The police must be compliant with the law they are charged with keeping.  There must be championing on this issue, politically and in the community, to pressure this wrong to be righted.  A failed, yet expansive, racial profiling law shows poor leadership thus far in that regard. Rather than continue with the chaos of the current system, the will to accomplish the intention of the Penn Act is within reach, and needs the support of police leadership and elected officials.  Instead of taking an adversarial approach with this issue, the onus is on them to cooperate with the community and move beyond this discriminatory, archaic idea.  Simple steps, some of which are proposed in this document, are low-cost, “low-hanging” approaches that can be implemented to both curb racial profiling and provide a form of recourse to the individual affected by the practice.

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