State government's obsession with racial disproportions in traffic stops by police is starting to seem meant to distract from far more serious issues of criminal justice.
Yes, some traffic stops are racially motivated, with some white police officers excessively suspicious of people “driving while black.” But then crime itself in Connecticut is far more disproportionate racially than traffic stops are, with members of minority groups constituting about three-quarters of the state's prison population. Even if all cops were perfect people, racial disproportions in traffic stops would have to be expected.
Traffic-stop data mean little without the details of each stop, including interviews with the motorists stopped, and in any case nearly everyone stopped is sent on his way with or without a ticket, so the incident is only a minor inconvenience. Data about stops will not deter police misconduct, especially not misconduct far worse than a prejudicial stop — misconduct such as the horrifying incidents lately captured on cellphone video in New York City and South Carolina. In New York City a crazed officer berated a motorist who had done nothing wrong. In South Carolina it is allegedly murder.
The police reforms that Connecticut needs have nothing to do with traffic stops. Officers should be required to wear video cameras recording their work, and police departments should be required to make their arrest records fully public, as they were before an unfortunate decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court last year. The General Assembly should act on both reforms soon.
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Eight years ago Connecticut's Judicial Department generally and its Supreme Court particularly were marred by scandal resulting from excessive secrecy and political maneuvering over a freedom-of-information case. The scandal revealed that the court system had become an old men's clique, hostile to inquiry.
As a result the chief justice retired in disgrace and was sanctioned by the Judicial Review Council, a perfectly good nominee to succeed him had to be withdrawn because of the chief justice's secret maneuvering in his favor, and then-Gov. Jodi Rell nominated and the General Assembly appointed as chief justice an Appellate Court judge who had been outside the fray, Chase T. Rogers.
Rogers has accomplished great change in the Judicial Department's operations, replacing secrecy and resentment of questions with openness and accountability, even though the department remains largely exempt from the state's freedom-of-information law. The department has changed its rules to increase public access at all levels. More important is that, under pressure from the chief justice, the department's attitude has changed.
Under Rogers the department increasingly recognizes that justice in a democracy is everybody's business, that due process of law is our cherished heritage as citizens, and that it can endure only if the public understands it and has faith in it.
Gov. Dan Malloy has renominated Rogers for another eight years as chief justice and the General Assembly should reappoint her with appreciation for her having made the courts more accountable and more deserving of trust.
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In the hope of gaining more attention from presidential candidates, Connecticut's Republican Party is considering replacing its presidential primary with caucuses in the state's 36 Senate districts and holding them early to compete with other early states.
While this might win Connecticut a bit more attention from the candidates, it would mainly just disenfranchise all but the most ideological or self-interested Republicans, requiring them to travel more to vote and then to sit through a long meeting first.
Primary voters don't need to go through such trouble to become informed. If they are voting at all it is because they have already been paying attention. The party's objective should be to facilitate participation, and that means a primary, not caucuses.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.