AUGUSTA — All law enforcement officers will be required to get training in cultural diversity and bias-based profiling in 2013 under guidelines adopted by a committee that studied the issue in Maine.

The Advisory Committee on Bias-Based Profiling by Law Enforcement and Law Enforcement Agencies was formed in 2009 after a bill to ban profiling was introduced in the Legislature. Advisory committee members reported back to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Thursday to recommend training for police officers, a public symposium to be held later this year, and mandatory policies adopted by local police departments.

The bill did not stem from any particular incident of profiling in Maine, but came about because of federal efforts to ban the practice, said Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the Portland branch of the NAACP.

Also, she and others — including the Maine Civil Liberties Union and Latino advocates — were hearing anecdotal evidence that police in Maine were targeting people because of their race.

“More and more of these stories were reaching our organizations,” she said.

Yet no data exists to prove — or disprove — that police in Maine have unfairly targeted minority groups. Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Morris, who served on the committee with Talbot Ross, said it would be too expensive to gather such data statewide. Police departments across Maine do not use the same computer systems, with at least 12 different vendors providing records management.

Talbot Ross said police in Lewiston, Westbrook and other Cumberland County cities would like to participate in a pilot program to begin gathering data about who is being stopped and arrested. However, there is no money to pay for it, she said.

Bias-based profiling is defined as stopping, detaining, searching or seizing based on “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, age or cultural group rather than solely on an individual’s conduct and behavior or specific suspect information.”

As it is now, some police reports list ethnic groups, and some do not. Talbot Ross said it’s difficult for police to ask someone’s ethnicity because it would enhance the perception that police are biased.

“Unless you’re asking every white person what her race is, you can’t justify asking Blanca Santiago what her race is,” she said.

Santiago, a member of the advisory committee, said recent raids of restaurants by federal immigration officials once again raised concern in her community about police conduct.

“If I have a car accident am I going to be treated differently?” she said. “It’s the idea that crime can’t be reported. This starts to help.”

Committee members said they have forged good working relationships and that they plan to hold a public forum this spring or summer to continue to raise public awareness and build confidence that police are serious about the issue.

Law enforcement officials who sat on the committee say while there is no data, they are concerned about the perception that not everyone is treated the same.

“We can’t serve the people’s needs unless we overcome the perceptions that are out there,” said Doug Bracy, who represents the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]


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