Pubdate: Tue, 29 Jun 1999
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 1999, New Haven Register
Author: Christopher Hoffman 


HARTFORD - Gov. John G. Rowland signed into law Monday a landmark bill
that makes racial profiling illegal and allows the state to cut off
funds to police departments caught engaging in the practice.

"This bill sends a message that individual rights will be secured and
preserved in Connecticut," said Rowland at a signing ceremony attended
by legislative leaders and the state's top law enforcement officials.
"This is going to be a national piece of legislation, I hope, a model
for other states to follow."

State Sen. Alvin Penn, D-Bridgeport, the primary force behind the new
law, praised Rowland, a Republican, for his strong backing of the
bill. Rowland, unlike governors in other states, has acknowledged
profiling is a problem and agreed to address it, Penn said.

"Today the Constitution State does an affirmation that no one is above
the law, but, better yet, no one is beneath the law," Penn said. "I
applaud the governor for taking the initiative."

Profiling is the police practice of targeting a certain ethnic group
for motor vehicle stops on the premise that members of that group are
more likely to commit crimes. Under the U.S. Constitution, police may
only stop drivers if they have "probable cause" to believe a law has
been broken.

Black and other minority drivers have long contended profiling is
common in the state, especially in predominantly white suburbs.

Speakers noted Connecticut is only the second state after North
Carolina pass a law addressing racial profiling, and its law is much

Under the bill, the state Department of Public Safety and local police
departments must come up with a written policy on racial profiling by
Jan. 1. In addition, the bill requires police departments to record
the race of every motorist stopped by its officers.

The agencies must present that data to the state which will then issue
a yearly report starting in 2002.

Police departments found to have used profiling will face the loss of
their state funding.

The law also creates a complaint mechanism for people who believe
they've been a victim of profiling. Under the law, such complaints
must be investigated.

Several high-profile incidents in the New Haven area brought racial
profiling to the forefront of public debate in recent years. In 1997,
a white East Haven police officer shot and killed Malik Jones, who was
black, after chasing him into New Haven for motor vehicle violations.

A state investigation concluded the controversial shooting was
justified. A suit filed by Jones' family contends, among other things,
that Jones was a victim of profiling.

Police in Trumbull and Milford have also been accused of targeting
minority drivers for traffic stops.

Roger Vann, head of the state NAACP who attended Monday's ceremony,
called the new law a major step forward in the fight against racism.
He credited publicity surrounding Jones' death and Rowland's backing
for getting the new law passed.

"I think we caught lightning in a bottle," Vann said. "It's a good day
for everyone who's suffered the silent humiliation of being pulled
over as a result of a racially-motivated traffic stop."

But New Haven police Sgt. Louis G. Cavalier said he feared politicians
drafted the bill based on public outcries without truly understanding
how the law will work or be enforced.

"We don't agree with profiling in any way shape or form," said
Cavalier, president of New Haven Police Union Local No. 530, "but I
don't think the bill is going to correct anything they think is wrong.

"Are they passing a bill to pacify people without an understanding of
what they're creating?"

Cavalier said the bill will steal an officer's discretion on whether
to issue a ticket since black politicians who supported the bill
chronicled traffic stops where they said they thought they were
stopped because they were black and then not charged with anything.

"You're going to force police officers now, no matter what the
circumstances, to give a ticket," Cavalier said.

Penn praised his fellow lawmakers for their overwhelming and
bipartisan support for the measure. He and Kevin Sullivan of West
Hartford, the state Senate's top Democrat, noted attempts to pass
similar legislation in other states have bogged down in

"In New Jersey, they had to have a lawsuit," Sullivan said. "In
Connecticut, we worked together." Register reporter William Kaempffer
contributed to this story.
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