Trumbull named in state racial profiling report

Trumbull Police Chief Michael Lombardo
Trumbull Police Chief Michael Lombardo

A recently released report on racial profiling does not give readers the full picture of law enforcement in town, according to Trumbull police Chief Michael Lombardo.

The 300-page report, available here, was released earlier this month by the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, names Trumbull as one of five municipal police departments that exhibit statistically disproportional traffic stops of black and Hispanic drivers. Connecticut has an anti racial profiling law that is named after the late state Sen. Alvin Penn, who was the subject of a high-profile traffic stop in Trumbull in 1996 when a white police officer pulled Penn over and allegedly questioned if Penn knew what town he was in. Neither Trumbull nor any other department is accused of racial profiling in the report.

Lombardo pointed out that although the report flagged Trumbull over the fact that 37.4% of traffic stops were of black and Hispanic drivers, there were numerous other factors influencing the numbers. Trumbull’s population is 6.8% black and Hispanic.

“Trumbull is unique,” Lombardo said. “We border one of the largest cities in the state, and we have a regional shopping mall that gets 8.5 million visitors a year. Also, we have three major highways that go through the town.”

The study compared the percentage of traffic stops of minorities with the populations of people who live and work in town to arrive at a statistical representation. Lombardo said that given the town’s location, the demographics of people living and working in town does not necessarily match that of the people who are driving in town. Route 25, for example, connects Danbury and the I-84 corridor with I-95 and the Merritt Parkway and serves as a main traffic artery through town.

“It’s not a fair comparison, because people drive through Trumbull that do not live or work in town,” he said. “And the research shows that 80% of the people stopped in town are not residents, so based on their own report we are not stopping the people that live here.”

The report also did not cite Trumbull under the so-called Veil of Darkness measure, where the researchers compared the rate at which minority drivers were pulled over during the dawn and dusk twilight, when it is much more difficult to determine the race of a driver, to the daytime hours, when it is more apparent. An officer who was racially profiling traffic stops would therefore show a disparity in the racial makeup of stops conducted during the day and during twilight, and Trumbull officers did not demonstrate that trait, according to the report.

The November 2017 report is the second report of its kind that listed Trumbull among police departments that disproportionately stopped minority drivers. Following the first such report last year, Lombardo said the department and the research group remained in communication, and he had followed up with the report’s authors to explain the department’s training and supervision practices. As a result of the communication, Trumbull was not listed among the departments that require further investigation in the latest report.

“We do a tremendous amount of training,” Lombardo said. “We put the entire department through a full-day Fair and Impartial Policing program through the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

In addition, the department has internal mechanisms in place to evaluate officers’ job performance, he said.

“We have mechanisms in place for early warning if there was an indication that someone is racially profiling,” Lombardo said. “If an officer is profiling, their supervisor is going to find out.”

Editor's Note — An earlier version of this story implied that Trumbull was suspected of violating the Alvin Penn Act. The report points out statistical disparities, but does not conclude that Trumbull violated the act or racially profiles drivers.