AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine police will have to track more demographic data on drivers they pull over in traffic stops starting in 2024 under proposed rules aimed at fighting racial profiling.
Attorney General Aaron Frey’s office is finalizing rules that will implement a 2021 law from House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, but changes based on concerns from police and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine may happen before it takes effect.
The early debate over the rules highlights the careful balance required on a sensitive topic that has revealed racial disparities in Maine and across the country on who gets stopped and arrested. Police are skeptical of the framework rolled out by the Democratic attorney general’s office, but the ACLU is floating a change as well.
Starting in October 2024, all law enforcement agencies will have to submit uniform, quarterly data to Frey’s office, which has received public comments this week from several organizations. Frey delivered recommendations to the Legislature on traffic stop data around the same time the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 and disrupted legislative matters.
The rules call for police officers to report the perceived race, color, ethnicity, age and gender of drivers they stop, along with the reason for the traffic stop, the result and any additional information deemed appropriate except for personally identifiable details.
Officers must determine the demographics based “only on personal observation and perception made during the course of the traffic stop.” They cannot ask the driver or make comments or statements designed to elicit this information, the proposed rules say.
The Maine Chiefs of Police Association wants that ban removed from the rules, noting law enforcement do not have training on accurately identifying race, gender, ethnicity and age.
If lawmakers and residents “are truly desirous of collecting accurate demographic information regarding law enforcement’s traffic stops,” then the Bureau of Motor Vehicles should collect the data for all Maine drivers, Cumberland Police Chief Charles Rumsey, also the president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said in written comments.
That information should also be on a driver’s license, something Maine law enforcement agencies asked for when the law was initially proposed, Rumsey added. Otherwise, he said police face increased software and administrative costs to collect and report the data. An “unknown” option should be also available for each category to ensure validity, he said.
The police chiefs association believes 15 days to collect and report the data is unreasonable so it would like to see 60 days or a minimum of 30 days. It also wants a requirement to record whether the driver is a resident of the agency’s jurisdiction and a resident of Maine.
Chiefs also feel the additional reporting and collection requirements will result in officers making fewer traffic stops, Rumsey wrote, saying it will “likely lead to decreased traffic safety and increased criminality.”
The association also wants a requirement to record whether the driver is a resident of the agency’s jurisdiction and a resident of Maine.
A Northeastern University study released in December 2022 found Black residents accounted for 14 percent of all traffic stops in Maine’s largest city of Portland while representing 4 percent of the driving age population, though they received citations less often than white drivers.
The ACLU of Maine supports the proposed rules as a “crucial first step” in combating profiling, its policy director, Meagan Sway, wrote to the attorney general’s office. Those comments were also submitted on behalf of LGBTQ advocacy groups that like how the rules include a non-binary option under the gender category.
The ACLU’s sole suggestion is that the state should track when Maine police refer cases to federal law enforcement, covering cases in which those counterpart agencies investigate the citizenship of the driver and passengers.
“We are concerned that in these events, state law enforcement might mark that ‘no action was taken’ because of the hand off to federal law enforcement,” Sway wrote.