CT traffic stops still down dramatically, despite end of COVID pandemic
Traffic stops are down dramatically in Connecticut – in some cases, more than 90% since 2019 – according to newly released state data.
Police chiefs believe it’s making roads more dangerous, but alternatives to traffic stops are on the horizon.
“SOMETHING’S GOT TO BE DONE”
From wrong-way drivers to deadly crashes, Connecticut’s roads are risky.
“The way traffic is going, getting on the highway the wrong way,” said John Kroys, of Easton. “Something's got to be done. Got to start somewhere.”
According to new state statistics from 2022, traffic stops were down 39% compared to three years earlier. The drop is even steeper – more than 80% -- in Waterbury, Thomaston, Easton and Newtown.
Enforcement did rise 14% statewide in 2022. But when police pull drivers over, they’re now giving out more warnings than tickets.
So why the steep drop? “It’s almost the perfect storm of a number of different things that have happened in the last couple of years,” said Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe, who recently served as president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association.
The decrease started with the COVID pandemic, when few drivers were on the road. But Dryfe believes enforcement has remained low due to staffing shortages, and officers reacting to Connecticut’s new Police Accountability Law.
“They've heard, again and again that, that is something that can subject them to accusations of racial profiling, of targeting people,” he said.
LAW APPEARS TO BE WORKING
State lawmakers passed the sweeping reforms in 2020, following weeks of protests over George Floyd’s murder. The law redefines “excessive force” and made it easier to personally sue officers for “wanton” civil rights violations.
The law appears to be working. Racial disparities are down for police stops, including fewer unwarranted vehicle searches, according to a draft report unveiled Thursday by the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project.
“We found, in previous years, that Black and Hispanic motorists were three to five times more likely to be asked to have their vehicle searched,” said Ken Barone. “And those searches were not yielding very high rates of contraband.”
ADDRESSING SAFETY DANGERS
Connecticut has the third deadliest roads in the nation, according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Dryfe believes the drop in enforcement is playing a role.
“I personally don't think it's a coincidence that Connecticut was at, or very close to, an all-time record in traffic fatalities last year,” Dryfe said.
After one of their colleagues was killed in a wrong-way crash, state lawmakers approved new warning systems at more than 120 highway ramps. DOT is also testing new vehicles that test a driver’s blood alcohol level when they get in the car.
“DADSS [Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety] technology is designed to passively detect a driver's blood alcohol content and to prevent the vehicle from moving,” said George Bishop, with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, which represents the world’s major car manufacturers.
In Stamford, a 71 year-old grocery clerk was killed in a hit-and-run crash, just days before Thanksgiving. Capt. Chris Baker said city police are using creative scheduling and federal funds to beef-up traffic patrols this year, including training 20 new officers in radar speed detection.
But soon, communities will have a new way to slow drivers down – without the need for cops. Automated speed and red light cameras are coming in 2024.
Dryfe said, be careful what you wish for.
“That's a chainsaw, not a scalpel. That is every car that drives by,” he said. “Every person that goes by gets that ticket.”