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Conn. Researchers Want New Technology To Decrease Racial Disparities In Traffic Stops

(AP Photo/Dave Collins)
A police cruiser sits parked behind the police department in New Haven, Conn.

In 2013, Connecticut was the first state in the nation to require a massive study on traffic stop data to see if there is systematic racial profiling.

Researchers at Central Connecticut State University have been analyzing the traffic stop data from local police departments around the state for the past four years.  And they want police departments to adopt a new technology so they can get better data. They have found that some police departments still use paper forms when reporting traffic stops, and don’t always submit them.

Ken Barone is a Research Specialist at Central Connecticut State University and has been leading the data collection project.

“It’s important for departments to have systems in place to insure that at the end of the day, somebody is going to their officer and saying ‘You called in 10 traffic stops, where are your 10 forms?’”

Barone says they’re still finding racial disparities in traffic stops in some departments. His team released a study of 9 police departments this summer.

Out of 294 officers with more than 50 traffic stops, 18 officers were singled out as having stops that were out of line with other officers in their departments.

“Some enforcement strategies won’t eliminate racial disparities, some of that’s baked into the cake, we know that. The question becomes to what degree is a law enforcement strategy confounding that disparity, and is the outcome justifying that.”

The researchers along with a state advisory board want local police departments to use a special program to help them with accountability and transparency to figure out if there is real racial bias there.

John Marshall is with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He says state officials have reached out to him about using the program called DDACTS. Short for Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety, it uses geomapping and data based on resident complaints and crime reports.

“And what it is, it’s an operational model that’s based on data. And that’s probably one of the best ways to gain transparency, is to base what you do on data.”

Marshall says he's seen it implemented effectively in Philadelphia and Schenectady, NY but it's not an easy sell at first.

“What we most commonly hear as far as challenges with regard to implementation goes back to resources, in particular, the analysis of data, a crucial part of DDACTS.”

Barone with Central Connecticut State University believes that the state advisory board should support police departments that may not have the resources to take on this approach. That may include asking the state for money, or asking public universities to supply analysts to the departments.

The next report on traffic stop data is scheduled to be released next month. 

Anthony Moaton is a former fellow at WSHU.