By Karen Cortés
Connecticut made national headlines last year when the U.S. Department of Justice released its findings that the East Haven Police Department had engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against Latinos, a violation of the Constitution and federal law. Tensions grew when Mayor Ed Maturo flippantly commented that he “might have tacos” in support of the city’s Latino community.
A year later, Connecticut is readying itself to make headlines once again, this time for the Racial Profile Prohibition project of the state Office of Policy Management. The project is being co-chaired by Dr. John DeCarlo, associate professor at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice & Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven. DeCarlo’s law enforcement background is more than academic. He has 34 years of experience in police management and administration and is the former chief of police in Branford.
DeCarlo says he jumped at the chance to serve as co-chair of the project when the opportunity was offered by former state legislator Bill Dyson. “Racial profiling isn’t just something that happens in big cities. It can happen close to home. It is important to deliver justice in policing services across the board,” he says.
“Connecticut is poised to become a national model with this legislative reform,” says DeCarlo. “It’s important to have an early warning system in place to detect patterns of behavior that are anomalous to best practices.”
The project team, which began its work in July, has four separate working groups: system and process, data methodology and analysis, public awareness and training. The team will make recommendations to legislature in January, with a final report in July.
“The Racial Profiling Prohibition Project will give police department executives the tools to find out if these things are happening, along with the training, tolerance and tools to make better officers,” says DeCarlo.
Connecticut’s anti-racial profiling law, The Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act, was first enacted in 1999. The law prohibits any law enforcement agency from stopping, detaining, or searching any motorist when the stop is motivated solely by considerations of the race, color, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual orientation.
During the 2012 legislative and special sessions the General Assembly shifted responsibility for the act’s implementation to the Office of Policy and Management, in consultation with the newly established Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board.
“It is great to be working with Governor Malloy and [undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning] Mike Lawlor. Without the political will to make this happen, it wouldn’t be happening,” says DeCarlo.
DeCarlo looks forward to seeing the fruits of the project team’s labor. “Change can happen quickly,” he says, citing increased diversity in East Haven’s department under Chief Brent Larrabee. “You can see the difference already.”
DeCarlo is actively involved in several areas of research including police use of force, weapon focus effect, consequences of multiple perpetrators on eyewitness efficacy and policing methodologies and bureaupathology. He holds a M.A. from the John J. College of Criminal Justice, and a M.Phil. and Ph.D. from the University of New York Graduate Center.
Public forums are being held throughout the state, including one to be conducted on Wednesday, December 12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Bridgeport YMCA, 850 Park Avenue in Bridgeport. For more information about the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, visit www.ctrp3.com.