DOJ finds widespread racial profiling in East Haven

the land of steady racism

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote about the town of East Haven, CT hurtling towards “sundown town” status, caused largely by alleged institutional racism and bias towards minorities – lately specifically Latinos. In that post, I mentioned that there was a federal civil rights lawsuit pending and that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice had opened an investigation into these alleged discriminatory practices of the East Haven Police Department. This past week, the DOJ issued its report in the form of a letter [PDF] sent to the East Haven mayor and boy is it damning (media coverage here).

Some of its key findings:

  • The East Haven Police Department (EHPD) conducted disproportionate traffic stops of Latinos. Latinos accounted for 24.8% of the stops in the 4pm-12am shift, which is typically the busiest. The numbers for the other shifts were 17.8% and 14.7%.
  • However, comparing the percentage of Latinos stopped to the percentage of Latinos in the population reveals a starker difference. Latinos accounted for 19.9% of all traffic stops, but make up only 8.3% of East Haven drivers (and 15.5% of East Haven and surrounding towns).

In making these stops, the DOJ found that the EHPD targets Latino drivers and employs tactics not used against non-Latinos:

  • Officers heavily patrol known Latino areas, lying in wait for people leaving predominantly Latino-oriented businesses.
  • Other methods use include following cars until a traffic violation occurs, out-of-state license plates known to be “forged”, citing speeding but writing little to no information about the speeding on the ticket itself.
  • Latinos face harsher treatment after being stopped: they are more likely to be arrested and have their cars towed for traffic violations than non-Latinos.

The DOJ further charges that the EHPD haphazardly employes immigration policies against Latino drivers and points out that the EHPD and East Haven have had a long standing problem with policing of minorities, citing a recently concluded federal lawsuit which alleged discrimination against African Americans (Jones v. Town of East Haven, et. al.).

The most shocking thing about all of this (or the least surprising, depending on how naive you are) is that the DOJ got all the above information from the EHPD itself: from 2 years’ worth of police reports and interviews with officers and community members.

The institutional coddling of these discriminatory practices is mind-blowing. From the news report:

East Haven may be unique, if only because of a tangle of politics and the close friendship between East Haven’s Republican mayor, Joseph Maturo Jr. and his chief of police, Leonard Gallo.

Maturo was originally mayor from 1997 to 2007 and he hired Gallo as chief in 1998. But Gallo was put on administrative leave by Maturo’s Democratic successor as mayor, April Capone, in 2010, a result of the allegations of racial profiling and excessive use of force by East Haven Police.

After Maturo won in the November elections, he almost immediately returned Gallo to full duty as chief — an astounding move given the ongoing civil rights and grand jury investigations into police actions during Gallo’s tenure.

And more:

The 23-page report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division cited top police officers for “creating and condoning a hostile and intimidating environment for anyone seeking to provide relevant information in this investigation.”

“We also learned that Chief Gallo had warned staff that the Department of Justice had agreed to provide him with the names of individuals who cooperated with the investigation,” according to the civil rights report. And that, federal officials insisted, was completely and utterly untrue.

How bizarre is this institutional protection? EHPD officers told DOJ officials (that’s the fucking Federal Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, in case we were unclear) that the DOJ officials’ safety could not be guaranteed by the EHPD when they went on ride-alongs. Ponder that for a second.

The DOJ found an abject lack of any internal policing mechanisms and that the EHPD hadn’t ever bothered to compile the statistics to see if racial profiling existed with its department, something that’s required by C.G.S. 54-1m. In addition, the DOJ noted that a large number of entries into the EHPD’s database seemed to be missing ethnicity data or the data seemed to be misreported.

EHPD is at a crossroads: either admit that there are problems and work toward fixing them or deny it all and face lengthy and costly lawsuits brought not only by civilians, but also the Department of Justice. As a new year dawns, one can only hope that concern for the safety of officers and the constitutional rights of its residents rises above deep-seated racism and pride.