HARTFORD – An audit finding that racial profiling data for thousands of traffic stops may have been intentionally falsified by state troopers will likely draw a federal Department of Justice investigation into the Connecticut State Police, Commissioner James Rovella said Wednesday.
Called before state lawmakers to answer questions on the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project’s audit of State Police traffic stop data from 2014 to 2021, the commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection said he believes the investigation could begin as soon as this week. The audit determined at least 25,966 traffic stop records from that time period may be false.
“I don’t have definitive information whether DOJ is going to sign in as the investigative agency. I think that will be the case,” Rovella said. “But presently, we’re receiving subpoenas from the federal Department of Transportation inspector general’s office for materials. I don’t want to begin to comment on those charges, they have a wide range of charges.”
Rovella said the department has already complied with a subpoena for records, and police officials said they welcome an independent investigation. Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday he had tapped former U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut Dierdre M. Daly to conduct the probe.
“I look forward to that,” State Police Col. Stavros Mellekas said. “We want to identify exactly what caused these errors or intentional [false] records that were placed into the system. And if they are [intentional], we’ll hold those individuals accountable, because they represent the Connecticut State Police, and it’s unacceptable.”
Rovella said the investigations will focus on about 130 troopers – 68 of whom are still active – that the audit identified as having disparities in their reported data. He said the investigation will “exonerate” those who didn’t falsify records and they would “pursue” those who did.
When he took over the department in 2019, Rovella said he had discussions about four state troopers in Montville who had written fake tickets. In response, he said he directed State Police to change performance evaluation requirements so they wouldn’t measure performance by the number of tickets troopers wrote.
“It’s not quantity anymore, it’s quality,” Rovella said. “So we’re not telling troopers, ‘I need six numbers, I need 10 numbers.’ we’re telling them to go out there based on traffic enforcement, based on accidents, based on citizens complaints, based on where your commander is going to tell you to have activity – not so much on quantity.”
But Andy Matthews, the former executive director of the Connecticut State Police Union, said troopers in the Eastern District were under constant pressure to make more stops.
The audit found the largest number of overreported stops was concentrated in Troop C in Tolland, Troop F in Westbrook, Troop K in Colchester and Troop E in Uncasville – which make up the Eastern District – said Ken Barone, associate director of the UConn Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, who co-authored the audit.
Barone said the institute conducted the audit after a 2022 Hearst Connecticut Media report uncovered that four troopers in Troop E had been writing fake tickets to appear more productive.
“I’ve heard – it’s not a fact – that the Eastern District was far more motivated by sending out troopers to do traffic enforcement aggressively,” Rovella said.
Matthews was less hesitant in his choice of words, saying “without hesitation” that the Eastern District commanding officers put “substantial pressure” on troopers to make more stops.
“The majority of our troopers in the field, though, didn’t falsify information,” Matthews said. “They actually went out under pressure and wrote tickets.”
Matthews said he doesn’t believe there is systemic racism in the State Police, but that individual officers intentionally reporting false information should no longer be police. He said law enforcement agencies must stop pressuring officers to be productive based on a number of stops.
“You get pressure from your supervisor, you don’t get certain work assignments, you don’t get a new car, you get transferred further away from your home,” Matthews said. “So they feel pressure and they go out and write tickets when it’s not necessary.”
State Sen. Herron Gaston, D-Bridgeport, said the ticket “fiasco” calls the integrity of the criminal justice system into question.
“We often rely on the testimony of officers in our judicial system to help the defendants be prosecuted who break our laws,” Gaston said. “And if officers are intentionally fabricating traffic records, they could have the propensity to fabricate testimony.”
State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, who is also a police officer, said he was frustrated with the way the audit was released. He said information is being released with only part of the picture, contributing to “misleading” and “false narratives” that create walls between police and the public.
“Today, it is possible that brave and honorable law enforcement officials within Connecticut State Police are going to have their name disparaged in the media,” Howard said. “And several months from now after the independent investigation, they’ll say, ‘Wait a minute – there were system errors, there were breakdowns here, they did nothing wrong.’ But it doesn’t matter, the damage will be done.”
Howard agreed that police who are found to be lying should no longer be officers, and Rovella vowed to uncover if other officers are intentionally reporting false information.
“I’m angry to say the least, and I’m disappointed that the conduct is even alleged,” Rovella said. “We’ll work through these records, we’ll comb through them, we’ll isolate those who falsify records. We’ll also tell those who didn’t that they did a good job. The ones who falsified records, we’ll hold them accountable, and there are consequences for those individuals, and for some of the individuals further up the chain.”