Maine will be one of a small number of states that track the race of motorists stopped by police statewide, under an anti-profiling law enacted Thursday.

The new law will attempt to identify and prevent racial profiling by requiring police departments around the state to collect data that will reveal the rate at which people of various races are being stopped for traffic infractions. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, requires that information, along with the gender and age of the driver, to be collected beginning in July 2023 regardless of whether a citation is issued or an arrest is made.

The police officer will record each motorist’s race based on the officer’s perception. Motorists won’t be asked for the information, according to the law.

Gov. Janet Mills allowed the bill to become law at 12:01 a.m. Thursday without her signature, signaling she was not totally satisfied with the final version of the legislation but supports its overall purpose. Bills that are not signed or vetoed become law 10 days after they’re approved by the Legislature and delivered to the governor.

“The governor supports the collection of data to better help us understand whether people of color are subjected to traffic stops in unwarranted ways,” said Lindsey Crete, the governor’s spokeswoman. “However, she is concerned that, in passing the bill, the Legislature eliminated both the provision for an additional position within the Maine State Police and the necessary computer programming to manage data collection.”

While the original bill included about $365,000 for the first year and covered the costs of setting up a database and hiring a staff person to manage it, the version passed by the Legislature included $136,500 to cover the cost of computer programming and maintenance.

Crete said the governor hopes the Legislature will provide more funding in the coming year.

State police spokeswoman Shannon Moss said the new law will not change how Maine State Police troopers conduct traffic stops, rather it will change how drivers’ information is documented during the stops. Moss also echoed the concerns presented by the governor’s office regarding adequate funding being allocated for the reform.

“The Legislature failed to fund any additional staff time to comply with this new requirement and only partially funded a technology solution to enable the collection of this data for our agency,” Moss said. “We are hopeful that the Legislature will fund these important components of the new law next year.”

The new law specifies that those who are stopped will not be asked to provide their race, rather the police officer making the traffic stop will collect the data by using using their perception of the driver’s race.

Jack McDevitt, director of the Institute for Race and Justice at Northeastern University, said this is the standard for collecting data on racial profiling around the country because the focus is on how police perceive the situation. McDevitt is advising the Maine attorney general on implementation of the bill.

“It’s not how I self-identify myself that causes people to treat me differently. It’s how I’m perceived,” McDevitt said. “It’s really important to know how a particular police officer perceives that person, because the perceptions of the officer will be what drive any kind of (bias). If there were any bias in terms of how they acted, it’d be based on their perception.”

Law enforcement groups in Maine did not oppose the concept of data collection, but argued that relying on officers’ perception will make the effort prone to errors.

“… Given that the race or ethnicity must be visually determined by law enforcement, the officer will have to bring to bear his or her best judgment about a person’s race or ethnicity, which may not always be accurate,” Moss said.

McDevitt praised the legislation, saying Maine is on the cutting edge of racial profiling data collection, joining a handful of states such as Missouri, Connecticut and Texas with statewide frameworks for collecting data on traffic stops. He also said that he views such bills as an opportunity to strengthen relationships between law enforcement and  the communities they serve.

“(The) most likely time we’re ever going to interact with police officers is when we’re stopped at a traffic stop, and that is a place where we could have opportunities to build trust,” McDevitt said. “We have all kinds of opportunities to use that to decrease traffic accidents, to build trust between the police. And this is an opportunity to do that.”

While there is no existing data to determine whether racial profiling is a factor during traffic stops in Maine, some who testified in favor said people of color have reported that they felt singled out and stopped or questioned by police.

And some Maine police departments, including Portland and South Portland, have analyzed data on arrests and race and found clear disparities. In Portland, for example, Black people represented 8 percent of the city’s population in 2019 but 17 percent of arrests, a disparity that mirrors national data.

The new law does not require police to begin collecting the data until July 2023 to allow for the creation of rules and procedures and for setting up a system for collecting and analyzing the numbers. The traffic stop data collected by officers will be entered into a central database overseen by the Office of the Attorney General, which will then create an annual report to the Legislature detailing any patterns or discrepancies in the racial make-up of traffic stops.

Talbot Ross, the bill’s sponsor, could not be reached Wednesday.

Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, sponsored a similar bill in 2019. In testimony to the Legislature the following year, Hickman praised police for their hard work and dedication, while making the case that anti-profiling legislation helps officers earn the trust of their communities.

“When even one of (a police officer’s) colleagues engages in discriminatory profiling tactics, whether it is conscious or subconscious, the resulting loss of confidence erodes the trust and integrity necessary be effective in their roles,” he said.

For Megan Sway, policy director at the ACLU of Maine, this bill is about accountability.

“We manage what we measure,” Sway said Wednesday. “We know from hearing from people of color about their experiences that racial profiling happens on Maine’s roads. Concrete data will help detect patterns of racial profiling, and hold officers and police departments accountable for practices that result in discriminatory policing.”

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