Maine lawmakers will take testimony Thursday on a bill that aims to curb racial profiling by requiring police agencies to keep demographic data on drivers involved in traffic stops.

The legislation, sponsored by House Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, is based on recommendations made by Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey. Previous iterations of the bill have met resistance from law enforcement in Maine, including the Maine Sheriffs Association and the Maine State Police.

Katy England, spokeswoman for Maine State Police, declined a request Wednesday for an interview on the new measure, saying the agency did not want to pre-empt lawmakers.

“Out of respect for the legislative process and our legislators we generally don’t publish our testimony or stance until the committee work,” England said in an email.

The bill would require police to collect information on the race, color, ethnicity, gender and age of drivers in all traffic stops they make regardless of whether a citation is issued or an arrest is made. The bill calls for the information to be collected by the officer making the stop, but it does not require the subject of the stop to disclose any of the information.

“The identification of such characteristics must be based on the observation and perception of the law enforcement officer responsible for reporting the stop,” a summary of the measure states.

One section of the measure that is likely to spark debate involves the disclosure of the data that is gathered. According to the bill, “the name and personally identifiable information of a law enforcement officer or any other person involved in any activity for which information is collected and compiled … are confidential and may not be released to the public.”

A different version of the bill, sponsored by former state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, went before the Legislature in 2019. In compromise action on the bill, Frey’s office was directed to make recommendations to the Legislature on collecting the data, which it did in March 2020.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hit Maine and the Legislature adjourned before Frey’s work could be incorporated into a new bill, said Marc Malon, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.

Talbot Ross, the sponsor, has resubmitted the legislation and it will be the subject of the public hearing Thursday. She did not respond to a request for an interview about the bill.

Hickman said in testimony for his 2020 bill that police officers are hardworking public servants who often risk their lives in the line of duty.

“But when even one of their colleagues engages in discriminatory profiling tactics, whether it is conscious or subconscious, the resulting loss of confidence erodes the trust and integrity necessary to be effective in their roles,” he said.

Maine law currently requires police to collect information on age, race and gender only if a citation is issued following a stop, according to a letter from State Police Major Christopher Groton to Susan Herman, a chief deputy in Frey’s office.

“Because the total number of traffic stops far exceeds the stops where a citation is issued, it is virtually impossible to determine the number of times our officers interact with people in the categories described in this statute,” Groton wrote.

In a five-page letter to the committee in March 2020, Frey details how Maine could implement a system to collect the data and then analyze it for racial profiling. At least two other states, California and Connecticut, have passed similar laws aimed at collecting demographic data from all traffic stops, Frey wrote.

Frey said the efforts in California and Connecticut have involved years of study, implementation of a centralized data collection system and the establishment of an advisory board to oversee the process. He said under Connecticut’s system, it takes 90 seconds for an officer to enter data following a stop. Frey also notes there would be a price tag to build the data collection system – Connecticut’s cost about $750,000.

Frey also details three options that Maine might pursue, including implementing a system like the ones California and Connecticut use. The Legislature also could require that law enforcement in Maine report all citizen complaints of racial profiling to the Office of the Attorney General for investigation, which would help determine if a more robust data collection system is needed.

The third option would involve having the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, where police are trained, require all police departments to establish a written policy mandating annual reports to the academy and the attorney general on all racial profiling complaints against a department. A similar system is in place for with excessive force complaints.

Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, said Wednesday that his organization was reviewing the legislation and would likely provide testimony on the bill.

Other law enforcement organizations, including the Portland Police Department and the Maine State Law Enforcement Association, did not respond or declined a request for an interview about the bill ahead of Thursday’s public hearing.

The committee is set to meet remotely at 10 a.m. and the hearing will be broadcast on its YouTube channel.

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