FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 4, 2023
Shara Drew, Communications Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org, (207) 347-4143
Daniel Ahern, Police Chief, email@example.com, (207) 799-5514
South Portland Police Release Analysis of Arrest and Traffic Citation Data from 2018-2020
SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine – In 2021, the City of South Portland joined with the City of Portland to commission an analysis of the department’s arrest and traffic citation data in order to better understand whether racial and ethnic disparities exist in the decision to arrest individuals and to issue traffic citations. It was the department's intent to use the results from this study to identify if there was a need for any policy changes or additional training to reduce these disparities.
The Cities hired the Catherine Cutler Institute at the University of Southern Maine and the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University to conduct this analysis. The Roux Institute of Northeastern University partly funded the study.
“It is unusual for a department to request this type of study,” indicated Jack McDevitt, professor of the practice in criminology and criminal justice, and director of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University, who was one of the co-authors of the report. “Usually, law enforcement agencies conduct these types of studies when they are legislatively required to do so or facing some type of litigation,” added McDevitt.
“Like the city of Portland, the South Portland Police Department wanted to learn more about how we can build and enhance our practices,” stated Police Chief Daniel Ahern. “We intend to use these data to focus in on areas for improvement.”
The full report of the study can be found here. The Summary of Key Findings begins on page 3.
While researchers identified disparities in arrests, they found no evidence that demonstrates severe or persistent occurrences of biased based policing at the South Portland Police Department. The study looked at arrest and traffic stop data for a three-year period (from 2018-2020) and found that Black or African American individuals accounted for 15% of all arrests among Maine residents in South Portland, and only 3.5% of the population estimate. However, the report concludes there is no evidence that race and ethnicity were related to the decision to request multiple charges, which prior research suggests can be an indicator of biased decision-making.
The study also found that people experiencing homelessness represented over 10% of all the South Portland PD arrests and were likely to be White, male, between the ages of 40 and 59, and also more likely to be arrested multiple times throughout the study period. (It is important to note that individuals were not arrested for being homeless; rather, arrests occurred due to criminal activity.) The Thornton Heights/Cash Corner neighborhood accounted for 32% of all arrests among people who were unhoused.
“These findings suggest that the City should continue to invest in community-based services and interventions that help people who are unhoused, in crisis, and/or grappling with mental health issues,” offered Sarah Goan of USM’s Catherine Cutler Institute.
And this is exactly what the City of South Portland has done in recent years, including:
- Providing resources through two Behavioral Health Liaisons within the Police Department;
- Contracting with Milestone Recovery’s HOME team to provide care and access to services for those experiencing homelessness and substance use; and
- Increasing its General Assistance budget and staffing to meet the increased need for housing and food assistance.
“South Portland Police Department is invested in continuously looking at the data and adjusting our practices to improve the quality of service we provide,” said Chief Ahern. “When responding to our unhoused population, our efforts are focused on providing resources without involving the criminal justice system. We don’t arrest people for being homeless or committing minor offenses often associated with homelessness. We do, however, arrest people who are homeless who commit serious crimes like assaults, breaking and entering, and having outstanding warrants.”
He added, “This study has highlighted that there’s still room for improvement, and we’re eager to work with the City and our community on next steps.”
Chief Ahern noted that his department has begun sharing statistical data on their social media platforms and will be expanding on this effort in the future. He also said that a new software program will help collect proper demographic information to monitor for future disparities. In addition, Chief Ahern indicated that recent recruitment efforts by the department has led to a more diverse workforce.