Conn. Panel: Police should not stop drivers for minor violations

Connecticut

(Photo: WKRN)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Police officers in Connecticut would be prohibited from stopping drivers for a broken headlight, displaying their license plates in their back windows and other minor violations, under recommendations approved Tuesday by the state Police Transparency & Accountability Task Force.

The suggestions that will be submitted to state lawmakers come as data show Black and Hispanic motorists in Connecticut are stopped at disproportionate rates for vehicle equipment and registration violations, compared with white drivers.

Some of the task force members said they hope restricting police from stopping drivers for “secondary” violations curbs the disproportionate stops of minorities and decreases confrontations where police use force on motorists. “It’s those types of stops that seem to be the stops that go bad, that go off into something greater, that creates a bigger issue, that results in a lawsuit or an officer being fired or terminated,” said Shafiq Abdussabur, a retired New Haven police officer on the task force.

The panel is recommending that secondary violations include having a single headlight, tail light or brake light that is not working. Having a license plate in a back window, which is common in cities, also would be a secondary violation, if the all the letters and numbers are clearly visible. Under the recommendations, police also would not be able to stop motorists for violations of window tinting laws and having ornaments or other objects that block some of their view of the road. The proposals also include extending from 30 to 60 days the period for which failing to renew a registration is considered a secondary violation. Several other minor violations would be considered secondary infractions.

Although the task force approved the recommendations unanimously, Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, a member of the panel, said he was concerned about reducing the number of traffic stops, because they occasionally lead to the solving of other crimes. Mello said when he was a patrol officer years ago, he tried to stop a car because its headlights weren’t on. The driver fled and someone threw a gun out of the car. When the car finally stopped after several crashes during the chase, Mello said police discovered the occupants had kidnapped and repeatedly raped a woman.

“Any time you reduce contact between the police and the public, there will be an impact in terms of crimes that are solved, crimes that are prevented. What that impact is is hard to measure,” Mello said.

The task force chairman, Daryl McGraw, a community activist and founder of a criminal justice consulting organization, said two of his children are new licensed drivers and he is worried what would happen if police stopped them. “For minority parents, it’s a scary time,” McGraw said. “As I tell my son … if you get pulled over these are the procedures because it might be his first time getting pulled over. He may appear nervous. That nervousness may be reflected as something else, like he has something to hide, and the wrong officer at the wrong time — that could create havoc. “I just want to make sure that he gets home safe,” he said.

The task force on Tuesday also received recommendations from a subcommittee on ways to increase the number of minorities and women on police forces. It did not vote on the proposals. Those recommendations include easing hiring criteria that disproportionately affect minorities and women, requiring collection of data from police departments statewide on the hiring and promotion of minorities and women, and openly addressing concerns about sexism in law enforcement when recruiting women.

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