Rules on how Maine police departments will monitor the demographics of motorists they stop have still to be finalized - in spite of a statute that they should have been ready in January.
These rules are to be distributed to police departments and other law enforcement agencies on how demographic information of people who are subject to traffic stops are to be recorded and monitored by police officers under a new law.
This law practice filed a public records request, twice, to the Attorney General (AG) Aaron Frey under the state’s Freedom of Access Act for these rules. However, no documents were produced on either occasion.
Initially, the AG’s office said the rules had yet to be “promulgated” - or distributed to law enforcement. In other words, the Attorney General’s office was either not complying with public records law by releasing these rules, or had not complied with a statute that the rules be ready by now.
In emails at the end of February when the first request was made, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Bolton, the office’s public access officer that deals with public records requests, confirmed that the rules have still not been adopted, or finalized. In a second request at the end of March, the response was the same - no document was responsive to the request. That’s in spite of the statute requiring them to be ready, or adopted, at the beginning of January.
There have been studies that illustrate how people of color are disproportionately impacted by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
In Maine specifically, several attempts to end ‘pretext stops’ - where the reason for a stop can be a hunch but hidden behind a minor violation such as a turn signal violation or a brake light being out - have failed in the legislature. The monitoring is to quantify if bias is present for such stops.Already specific research shows just that. In South Portland, the police department recently asked an academic from Northeastern University to conduct a study of traffic stops there. The resulting report showed evidence of racial and ethnic disparities with non-white motorists three to four times more likely to be stopped.
Delays in the finalizing and release of the rules on how traffic stops will be monitored also delays how police departments can prepare to actually do it. Demographic monitoring of drivers stopped by police is scheduled to begin in July.