Study finds less disparity in minority traffic stops by Meriden police

MERIDEN — An annual analysis of statewide traffic stop data released Tuesday found Meriden reduced racial and ethnic disparities among white and minority drivers in 2017.

Prior studies flagged the department as one of a few in Connecticut with “statistically significant” disparities.

The analysis of data from the calendar year 2017 found racial and ethnic disparities in Meriden only “marginally” exceeded certain benchmarks set by researchers. The finding is an improvement over the past two studies — conducted in 2014-15 and 2015-16 — that found larger disparities, said Ken Barone, the project manager of Central Connecticut State University’s Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project.

“Meriden was identified with fewer racial and ethnic disparities in this report compared to prior years and the disparities were only marginally above the benchmarks,” the study states.

Barone said some statistical tests used by researchers found that Meriden police pulled over Hispanic drivers at a higher rate than comparable towns, however, he noted the disparity was lower than in past years. The latest analysis found no disparity in traffic stops of black drivers, which had been seen in past studies.

Barone believes Meriden should be encouraged by the improvements shown in the statewide study, the fourth performed by researchers at CCSU since 2014. City Manager Tim Coon agreed the data is encouraging and said the Police Department has taken several steps in recent years to increase transparency and combat the disparities, including beginning use of body cameras and requiring officers to undergo training on implicit bias. Coon used to lead implicit bias training in his past job as a curriculum manager of the State Police Academy.

Police Chief Jeffry Cossette and a department spokesmen didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The legislature passed a law years back tasking the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at CCSU with conducting the annual analysis of traffic stop data, which is used to enforce a 1999 state law prohibiting law enforcement agencies from stopping motorists based on race, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual orientation.

After Meriden was first flagged as one of about 10 departments showing high disparities in the 2014-15 study, researchers conducted a follow-up analysis looking at contributing factors.

Barone said researchers found it is more difficult for Meriden to close the statistical disparity due to the city’s concentrated minority population in the inner city. Police devote a high number of resources to the inner-city given its higher call, crime, and accident volume, Barone said, which means minority drivers are more regularly exposed to law enforcement and therefore traffic stops.

The goal of the study, Barone said, is not to determine whether tactics deployed by police constitute discrimination or profiling, but to spark conversations among departments, communities, and elected officials.

Researchers have previously encouraged Meriden police to explain to the city’s minority community how it chooses to deploy resources so that minorities don’t think the police are “harassing” them.

“As a department, you do have an obligation to ensure that minority populations are fully aware of and understand the practices you’re engaging in,” Barone said.

Coon said those conversations regularly occur between officers and minorities out in the community. He noted that increasing the public’s understanding of policing decisions is part of the idea behind the city’s community policing model.

Cossette in past years has criticized the study’s methodology and questioned the accuracy of its findings, claiming the study makes a number of false assumptions. In 2015, he posted a five-page response to the study online, writing that the department is “determined to win the public’s trust and confidence by fostering an environment conducive to bias-free policing.”
Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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