The Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project: A National Example

Other states are now adopting the model of data analysis and intervention developed by the Project, which is housed at UConn’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy

The lights on top of a police car are illuminated.

(Michael Fortsch on Unsplash)

Connecticut’s history of police reform legislation formally began in 1999, when the state legislature passed a ban on racial profiling. That law was known as the Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act, in recognition of the bill’s champion, a Black state senator from Bridgeport who had experienced racial bias in traffic stops firsthand. 

But, as Ken Barone points out, “Somebody’s got to be there to implement the law, to oversee the law, to make sure it’s working, to ensure that programs have integrity and receive funding.” 

Barone is the associate director of UConn’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy (IMRP) in the School of Public Policy and project manager for the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project (CTRP3). When he joined the IMRP in 2011, he recalls, statewide enforcement of the racial profiling ban was patchwork at best.  

While police officers were required to record demographic information about everyone they pulled over, there was no standardized reporting process for them to use, resulting in backlogs of paper forms that were never collated or analyzed. The state agency tasked with reviewing the data, the African American Affairs Commission, didn’t have the funding or the staff to process them.

“It was just this unworkable system,” Barone says. 

It was the perfect niche for the IMRP to fill. In 2012, the state government sought to revitalize the Alvin W. Penn Act and reached out to the Institute to ask if they could “help build out a thoughtful data collection and analysis program,” creating the CTRP3, according to Barone.  

Over the next several years, the CTRP3 modernized Connecticut’s traffic stop reporting system. Now, every traffic stop in the state requires the police officer to record 26 data points on the encounter, which are submitted electronically in real time to a centralized repository. 

Researchers at the CTRP3 use a complex model to evaluate the data they receive from the state’s 94 municipal police departments and state police. This model can account for various discrepancies between departments’ service areas — whether they are rural or urban, for example, or whether they are home to a large venue such as a shopping mall or sports stadium — and ensure that each department’s statistics are being evaluated within their unique context. 

“The general idea was that, rather than have stakeholders argue about the efficacy of any one tool, if you’re a police department that has significant statistical disparities across multiple tools, there’s probably something there worth exploring,” Barone says. “And then the second thing that sets us apart is we decided we weren’t simply going to put out an annual report that points fingers at a department and walk away from the conversation. We’re going to use our tools to identify departments that warrant further analysis; then we’re going to work with them to address any disparities.” 

Another thing that sets the program apart from other states? Mutual buy-in, explains Barone. 

On the CTRP3 advisory board, he says, “We brought together all the stakeholders we could think of — police chiefs, different state agencies, the ACLU, the NAACP. We said, ‘Everybody, send representatives. We’re all going to sit down and figure this out together. And we’re all going to be bought into what we’re building.’” 

That advisory board has met almost every month for the past decade. And, according to Barone, many of its members are original — reflecting a staying power rare among state boards and commissions. 

The IMRP released its first annual analysis of traffic stop data in 2015. In the eight years since, Barone has testified before the state and federal governments in support of continued funding for the project, which has now expanded to include remediation programs for departments with racial disparities in enforcement. 

Barone’s testimony was key to garnering increased funding for all states to analyze their traffic stop data under the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Following his arguments, the bill’s $375,000 annual allocation per state was raised to $1.15 million, and restrictions against using the funding for follow-up interventions were removed. 

“At the time, the federal regulation said that you could only use the funding to collect and analyze data, and I was arguing that we might discover that there’s a problem in a department and that a training program would be effective. We might want to engage the community and do community forums or community-related programming that could help address racial profiling,” Barone explains. 

The increased funding will allow for the CTRP3 to create a publicly accessible data dashboard, conduct more research, and expand its community outreach through more public forums. 

In the wake of the pandemic and the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, Barone says, the work took on a renewed importance. Traffic deaths have risen across the country since the pandemic; 2022 was the deadliest year on Connecticut’s roads in decades. At the same time, continued advocacy, abolition, and reform efforts have prompted a nationwide reckoning with racist policing practices, from profiling to disproportionate use of force. 

Through nuanced data analysis and intervention efforts, Barone believes, the CTRP3 can provide solutions for both problems. 

“We have 10 years of research under our belt, and now the project can be more than just evaluating disparities in traffic stops, but we can provide thoughtful data-driven insights for policy reform,” he says. “One of the big focuses that the federal government has, particularly under this administration, is they want more research done by universities like UConn that will help them determine what are the best enforcement strategies to reduce fatalities, reduce injuries, and ensure it’s done in a fair and equitable manner.” 

The CTRP3 model has become so successful that other states are reaching out about incorporating it into their own work, says Barone. California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Maine, Nevada, and Colorado have all adopted the model or are in the process of adapting it. 

“Connecticut has really become a national model for how states can go about accessing federal dollars to support this work,” Barone says.