Connecticut State Police issued 26,000 fake traffic tickets over eight years, according to an audit by a Northeastern researcher by Cody Mello-Klein July 25, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter The recently published audit of Connecticut State Police reveals that troopers and constables submitted 26,000 fake traffic tickets between 2014 and 2021. AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File Connecticut State Police submitted at least 26,000 fake traffic tickets from 2014 and 2021, according to the findings of a recent audit of the department’s records. The audit, conducted by Matt Ross, an associate professor of public policy and economics at Northeastern University, and Ken Barone from the University of Connecticut, revealed that 387 troopers and constables had submitted thousands of fake tickets. Ross estimates that the total number of fake tickets could be as high as 58,533, although only 26,000 tickets were verified to have no actual recorded traffic stop associated with them. The fake tickets made state troopers and constables seem more productive, putting them in line for certain perks and promotions. The thousands of false records also distorted the state’s racial profiling traffic stop data, making it appear that state police were ticketing more white drivers. In performing the audit, Ross says there were some fake tickets that were clearly the result of troopers making a mistake when submitting tickets––but the audit reveals a pattern of behavior that goes well beyond simple user error. “We effectively identified almost 25% of the state police troopers that look like this is too many mistakes to be an accident,” Ross says. “At the top end of that distribution, there’s some guys who were on the traffic division in Connecticut who were just making a ridiculous amount of these fraudulent tickets.” That includes one officer who alone accounted for 1,350 fake tickets over the course of three years. At the bottom end, we report 26,000 [tickets] that we could not find any record for. Since the audit went public last month, Ross and his fellow researcher have heard from current and former state troopers that the issue might go beyond what they were able to capture in their audit. “[They] basically said, ‘This is really widespread and some of us have tried to report this and nobody has paid attention to it. You should also look at x, y and z. There’s a bunch of other weird stuff that’s going on with accident reports and other stuff like that,’” Ross says. The audit comes on the heels of a 2022 Hearst Connecticut Media investigation that uncovered how four troopers had submitted hundreds of fake tickets to seem more productive. Connecticut State Police investigated the four troopers in 2018 and put two on short-term leave while the other two troopers retired and are currently collecting pension. Photo Courtesy of Matt Ross In the aftermath of Hearst’s reporting on the issue, the state police department asked Ross and Barone to conduct the audit. Ross has served on the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project Advisory Board since 2013, during which time he helped create an early warning system to identify racial disparities in police traffic stops. In Connecticut, state law requires that officers submit the perceived racial identity of anyone involved in a traffic stop. “What we found was that it seemed to be a much, much larger issue than was initially reported by the Hearst Media Group and well beyond the scope of the state police’s internal investigation,” Ross says. Since the release of the audit, the state has launched an investigation into the issue and the state police department has started to monitor the ticketing system more actively, Ross says. “The state police are deeply committed to ensuring the integrity of Connecticut’s racial profiling data and to maintaining public confidence in the essential public safety services our troopers provide each day,” Connecticut State Police said in a statement. But Ross says the response from some state troopers reveals how embedded and accepted this kind of behavior is among some state troopers. After Connecticut State Police started to monitor the ticketing system, one state trooper allegedly filed 1,000 tickets and logged many of them, falsely, as “Native American” drivers. The Connecticut State Police has suspended the trooper in question. “To me, that speaks volumes because it’s simply in response to them wanting to monitor this,” Ross says. “They have guys who are just doing a protest because [the department] is just looking at these things.” The impact the fake tickets have had on the state’s racial profiling data is significant, Ross notes. But he also says that while there may be certain officers “on the margins” who actively tried to distort the state’s racial profiling system, he attributes most of this behavior to “shirking on the part of the officers” when they were submitting these fake tickets. “When they have to fill out this stuff, there’s drop-down menus for a lot of the information, and white and non-Hispanic are just at the top of those drop-down menus, and for the time, it’s 12 o’clock at night,” Ross says. “It just seems basically that they were just hitting the first thing on all the drop-downs.” In looking at the system in Connecticut, Ross says there are ways to prevent similar situations from happening in the future, and the state is taking steps to adjust its systems. But change doesn’t come easily, especially when some of the troopers at the top of the chain of command got there by manipulating the very system that the department is now trying to change. “The other thing that’s interesting and also challenging for Connecticut is a lot of these guys that were doing a lot of this, particularly back in the older periods of the data, they all got promoted because they looked super productive,” Ross says. “So, now they’re all in command positions or have special enforcement detail.” At a basic level, Ross recommends that departments adopt entirely electronic systems to document both traffic tickets and verbal and written warnings. In Connecticut, the latter have become an issue, even as the number of fake tickets has decreased since 2014. “It’s not their job to be issuing what might be described as roadside justice in terms of giving certain people breaks,” Ross says. “Actually, in my research what we found is that the decision about who to give a ticket and who to give a warning is where that implicit bias that favors certain groups over other groups creeps in.” More broadly, Ross says moving ticketing out of the domain of state troopers and police and entirely into electronic ticketing via speed cameras is a worthwhile investment, both financially and in terms of honoring the training and skills of police officers. “Long term we need to be thinking about those types of solutions that take the human element out of this stuff and leave the really complicated dealing with domestic violence issues, calls for service, that kind of stuff to a highly trained police officer,” Ross says. Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.