Comprehensive reforms to the East Haven Police Department outlined in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice will not only start to repair the damage caused by years of biased policing in that city but will also serve as a model for other Connecticut police departments.
"The abuse of Latino people in East Haven by some who were paid to serve and protect them has been shameful and repugnant," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. "The consent decree announced today by the Department of Justice is a powerful first step toward rectifying this injustice."
The agreement is the product of an investigation begun in September 2009 by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice after officers in the East Haven Police Department arrested the Rev. James Manship while he was taking video of officers searching a Latino-owned grocery store.
In December 2011, the Department of Justice reported that East Haven police demonstrated "a pattern or practice of systematically discriminating against Latinos." Four officers have been arrested and two have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from civil rights violations against the Latino population.
The settlement agreement includes multiple changes to police policies, practices, training and supervision. It sets out specific standards for the use of force, undertaking searches, making traffic stops and investigating civilian complaints of police misconduct.
"This settlement agreement is a welcome sign the federal government is taking action to protect people of color from having their most basic rights compromised by racial profiling," said Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program. "With racial profiling occurring in Connecticut and anti-immigrant laws that started in Arizona since spreading to Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Utah, it's clear that the trend of unlawful discrimination against immigrants is widespread. We call on the federal government to continue to take aggressive action in each and every instance in which itis warranted."
In Connecticut, the agreement provides standards that can be adopted statewide, Schneider said.
"Unfortunately, many of the practices that the East Haven Police Department has used to intimidate and harass Latino residents are not unique to that city," he said. "The ACLU of Connecticut regularly hears complaints from around the state about racial profiling, harassment for recording police activity, intimidation to discourage civilian complaints, misuse of Tasers and other abuses of police power. We encourage police chiefs to read the consent decree with an eye toward adopting similar reforms."
The ACLU of Connecticut has worked with other members of the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition to strengthen the decade-old Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act, which prohibits police from stopping, detaining or arresting anyone solely on the basis of race and requires police departments to collect data on traffic stops and enforcement actions. The coalition called on municipal police departments earlier this year to develop and enforce strong, internal anti-profiling policies.
-- Oct. 23, 2012