Where and why drivers are pulled over in Connecticut

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Connecticut drivers were pulled over most often for speeding, as well as using a cell phone. Officers in Putnam were the most lenient in the state and were the most likely to let drivers off with a warning instead of a ticket. And commuters had the highest likelihood of being stopped in Newtown than any other town in the state.

These are just some of the conclusions drawn from traffic-stop data from the Office of Policy and Management, which is available because of a law compelling law enforcement agencies to electronically submit their traffic-stop information.

Trend CT analyzed more than 586,000 traffic stops conducted by Connecticut State Police and local police departments between October 2014 and September 2015, following methodology by The Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University.

We’ve created a database for readers to look up the traffic stop patterns for their local police department and are publishing a series of stories digging into which one show signs of racial profiling and how researchers identified them.

Among some police departments there continue to be significant disparities between white and minority drivers in traffic stops and in whether those stops result in tickets or searches. Even a brief search of our database illustrates how a handful of police officers can affect the statistics for departments, as well as the state.

We begin with a general overview of traffic stops in Connecticut.

Departments with highest rates of stops
Town Stops per 1,000 drivers Traffic stops Driving population
Newtown 494 9,956 20,171
Ridgefield 426 7,713 18,111
Orange 418 4,601 11,017
Old Saybrook 408 3,402 8,330
Monroe 389 5,800 14,918
New Canaan 379 5,355 14,138
Wilton 368 4,773 12,973
Berlin 360 5,783 16,083
Bloomfield 309 5,241 16,982
Ansonia 305 4,574 14,979
CCSU Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy
Overall trends

About two-thirds of drivers stopped in Connecticut were male and about 87 percent of drivers were state residents.

More drivers under the age of 30 were pulled over (38 percent) than drivers older than 50 (23 percent).

Most of the drivers pulled over in Connecticut by police were were white, non-Hispanic drivers (70.6 percent). About 14 percent were black non-Hispanic drivers and 12.5 percent were Hispanic drivers. About 3 percent of the drivers were Asian/Pacific Islander non-Hispanics and American Indian/Alaskan Native Non-Hispanic drivers.

Departments with lowest rates of stops
Town Stops per 1,000 drivers Traffic stops Driving population
Shelton 18 579 32,010
Portland 24 178 7,480
Wolcott 28 371 13,175
Waterbury 29 2,408 83,964
Middlebury 30 177 5,843
East Hampton 45 457 10,255
Weston 50 361 7,255
Bridgeport 51 5,603 109,401
Meriden 57 2,700 47,445
Winchester 61 555 9,133
CCSU Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy

In 2011, only 27 of 103 departments submitted traffic stop data. This year, all departments participated— some are beginning to include latitude and longitude specifications that open up many more possibilities for analysis.

In their report last year, the agency recommended all departments participate in the Department of Justice’s training program on “Fair and Impartial Policing.” Since then, more than 1,000 officers have gone through the training.

Officials say it’s an important step toward developing a transparent dialogue between law enforcement and the public.

Connecticut is one of the few states to release this level of specific data and to require law enforcement agencies to submit regular updates on all traffic stops. The state is leading the nation in addressing the issue of racial profiling, according to the report.

Nine police departments and one State Police troop were statistically more likely to pull over minority drivers during daylight hours when their race is more easily visible.

Five police departments that had significant racial or ethnic disparities in traffic stop patterns were Bloomfield, New Milford, Norwalk, West Hartford, Wethersfield, and State Police Troop H in Hartford.

Other police departments that exceeded the racial disparity threshold were East Hartford, Granby, Groton Town, Hamden, New Britain, Stratford, Waterbury, and State Police Troop C in Tolland. Meriden, Newington, Trumbull, and Windsos were also flagged based on another benchmark analysis.

Researchers stressed that evidence of racial and ethnic disparities do not, by themselves, provide conclusive evidence of racial profiling. However, statistical disparities do provide significant evidence to warrant an in-depth look into departments.

Drivers were most often pulled over for speeding (26 percent).

The second-most-common violation was cell phone use at 10 percent.

Almost half of the drivers pulled over ended up with a traffic ticket. About 45 percent were let off with a warning. 

This ratio varies department to department, and we’ll look into that in future stories.

Portland and Suffield lead other departments in the state with the highest ratio of speeding tickets given out after a speed-related stop, 69 and 62 percent respectively.

On average, 25.5 percent of all traffic tickets given out by local police were speed-related. The average for state police was higher at 31 percent.

There was a noticeable increase in stops related to distracted driving, coinciding with federal grants to help local law enforcement agencies target cell phone violators.

Between September 2014 and October 2015, if a driver was pulled over in Hartford, chances are police gave that driver a ticket. Especially if that driver was using his or her cell phone.

Some communities may view infraction tickets as the best method to increase traffic safety, while others may consider warnings to be more effective, according to the report.

These charts show which departments place more emphasis on which method.

What do you think?