Proposed rules on how Maine police departments will monitor the demographics of motorists involved in traffic stops have now been released by the Attorney General, more than eight months after they should have been ready and nearly two months after police departments were originally supposed to start doing it.
Monitoring will now start in July NEXT year.
The Attorney General's office was tasked by statute with preparing the rules to distribute to police departments. They dictate how demographic information of people who are subject to traffic stops are to be recorded and monitored by police officers. A statute required that they be ready, or adopted, at the beginning of January this year.
They were released after this practice filed three public records requests to the office of the Attorney General (AG) Aaron Frey under the state’s Freedom of Access Act requesting the rules expecting them to be ready. However, no documents were provided on each occasion. The rules were finally sent via an email from the AG's office on August 30, 2023.
The email stated the document has been filed with The Secretary of State and the deadline for comments in September 25.
The rules define in more detail the breakdowns of what is required to be monitored and defines categories of what will be noted. These include definitions for race, gender, age, and so on. The data only cover information at a department level. The individual officer involved is not noted - making it impossible to detect if there are issues within a department. It also bypasses disclosure of bias in discovery for criminal cases. The information collected includes the officer's own perception of a person's race, and does not include identifying information of the person stopped. That makes it impossible to conduct an audit on the accuracy of the information gathered.
The monitoring of traffic stops will, according to the proposed rules, cover municipal police departments, sheriff's departments, Maine State Police, tribal police departments, university or college police departments, and the Department of Public Safety. Federal law enforcement is not included.
The information collected is retained for five years and reported to the Attorney General's office every quarter.
There have been studies that illustrate how people of color are disproportionately impacted by law enforcement and the criminal justice system - for whatever reason.
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.