Connecticut joined the national conversation about racial profiling Sept. 4 by releasing the largest database ever assembled in the state on the frequency of minority drivers being stopped by police.

The raw data submitted by Connecticut's 106 police agencies reveals disparities at both the state and local levels. In some communities with large minority populations like Stamford and Norwalk, the disparities between population share and traffic stops are less pronounced.

But in mostly white suburban communities such as Darien and New Canaan, the disparities stand out.

Statewide, black people represent 8 percent of the population, but black drivers accounted for 14 percent of traffic stops in late 2013 and the first part of 2014.

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New Canaan numbers

Population in New Canaan by race (%):
Black: 0.8
Hispanic: 2.24
White: 94.51

Estimated Driving Population (%):
Black: 3.01
Hispanic: 5.73
White: 90.19

Percentage of traffic stops:
Black: 4.55
Hispanic: 9.33
White: 94.02

Source: Connecticut Racial Profiling Project

For Hispanic people, the disparity is smaller. They make up 9.7 percent of the population, but account for 12 percent of traffic stops.

While these numbers alone don't necessary prove the existence of racial profiling, the sheer difference in numbers of traffic stops in certain towns for black and Hispanic people raises questions.

"Police have enormous power to stop people from free movement in society, and with that power comes a certain level of scrutiny that other professions don't have," said Ken Barone, a policy and research specialist at the Institute for Municipal And Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University, the co-author of the report.

"We understand the level of scrutiny is high, but we are also sure that it is not appropriate to have it any other way," he said.

Barone's team plans to issue a comprehensive analysis of the data in January.

Even the raw data are cause for concern, said Sandra Staub, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and a member of the state's Racial Profiling Prohibition Project advisory board.

"The data show police in general treating drivers of color with more suspicion for less cause," Staub said. "We need more data and more analysis to get a better picture of what's happening, but it's not too soon for police departments to consider what the report suggests about their practices and what changes may be in order."

Researchers who released the 490-page report in Hartford stressed that the disparities alone should not be used to conclude that police in mostly white Connecticut towns are pulling over drivers simply because of their color or ethnicity.

The reason: important variables such as out-of-town traffic to malls and workplaces have not yet been accounted for in the raw data.

But neither Darien nor New Canaan have large shopping areas or businesses that bring in a lot of people from other places.

Another mostly white town, Trumbull, does have a large mall, however.

"The Trumbull mall gets 9 million visitors a year," said Trumbull Deputy Police Chief Glenn Byrnes. Another aspect that police departments took issue with is that the comparisons are made against total population, not driving-age population.

It's an inaccurate comparison to make, New Canaan's Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said in an email. A more accurate measure, he said, would be estimated driving population, or EDP.

"Thousands of vehicles travel New Canaan roads every day, so EDP is critical," Krolikowski said. "Many of these drivers do not live in New Canaan and many of these drivers do not mirror New Canaan's population in terms of race and ethnicity. As such, comparing our town's population to the percentage of drivers stopped is flawed."

Krolikowski also said his department collects and analyzes motor vehicle stop data every year, which he said shows that "the overwhelming majority" of drivers stopped are white.

"We have very clear policies against racial profiling and we do not tolerate it," he said. "My officers initiate motor vehicle stops for cause, not the color of someone's skin or their ethnicity. To suggest otherwise is offensive and inaccurate."

Darien Police Chief Duane J. Lovello pointed out that the traffic stop report itself states it is a preliminary one, and that the state is still developing its analysis system.

"It is wholly irresponsible to view or report on this data in a manner the report itself cautions against," he said.

However, he also said that his department works hard to ensure all people officers have contact with are treated fairly and professionally.

"There's simply no other way it should be done," Lovello said.

In Greenwich, Capt. Robert Berry said juxtaposing traffic stops and population statistics is comparing apples and oranges.

"The actual numbers for a particular racial group come out of the population that travels through the town, not the one that lives here," Berry said. "There are different demographics just across the border in Port Chester and different demographics in Stamford."

Stamford's numbers appear to show the numbers of black drivers stopped is in line with the percentage of black people who make up the city's population; Hispanic people are underrepresented in traffic stop data by about half.

But the city's data in the report may not accurately reflect the race of who gets stopped by police. The ACLU questioned why Stamford, with a population of 123,000 and a police force of 282 officers, had only 637 traffic stops for the 8-month period of the report when a small town such as Granby had 979 stops.

Assistant Chief James Matheny explained that Stamford is working on a new system to transmit its data to the state.

"We make about 3,000 stops a month," Matheny said. "If anyone ever wants to see the information, we have it all right here."

rryser@newstimes.com; 203-731-3342

Staff reporters Bill Cummings, Justin Pottle, Nelson Oliveira and Megan Spicer contributed to this report.