ACLU wants Michigan State Police's data on race of drivers in traffic stops

Michigan State Police says its troopers don't racially profile drivers. Soon, they'll have to prove it.
In 2017, the agency began documenting the race of drivers in traffic stops. It was a policy change that would, among other things, reveal any pattern of racial profiling.

Now ACLU Michigan is asking MSP to conduct an agency-wide review of last year's stops and make the findings public. 

"We're concerned not just because they've had a year to gather the data and statistics regarding race," said Mark Fancher, ACLU Michigan. "But because in that time we've received complaints from people who suspected they have been stopped because of their race."

Fancher is director of ACLU's Michigan's Racial Justice Project and wants state police to pay close attention to its hometown security teams which focus on intercepting illegal drugs.
"We have been contacted by two individuals who were stopped on two separate occasions by this team," Fancher said. "Presumably because they were following to close behind tractor trailers. Each of these drivers were also made to exit their vehicles, their cars were searched, a canine was brought in to sniff, before they were finally allowed to go."

Fancher said both drivers were black. And after those complaints, ACLU Michigan requested and received records that showed members of that same team stopping a disproportionate number of racial minorities during the first three months of 2017. 

"Stop one guy get five tickets, bonus," said Trooper Craig Tuer in a previous interview.

It was this story with Tuer that played a role in state police requiring troopers to document the race of drivers in traffic stops. He described the agency's 70 percent baseline for performance evaluations as a floating quota system.

MORE: Trooper claims state police policies encourage racial profiling

Troopers who fall below that benchmark are more likely to target minorities to get their numbers up.

"Now the police I do not believe for a minute are inherently racist," Tuer said. "But the policies that are put in place reward a racist behavior."

MSP denied the assertion then and says it has nothing to hide now. While it has not reviewed 2017's traffic stops, a spokeswoman says it plans to do so in the near future and will make the findings public.

That spokeswoman for Michigan State Police went on to say that stopping someone because of their race or without proper grounds is a violation of MSP’s code of conduct and any trooper accused of doing it will be the subject of an internal investigation.

The full official Michigan State Police statement: 

"Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, the Michigan State Police (MSP) enhanced its ability to capture demographic data of persons encountered during traffic stops. This was done so the MSP could have the most accurate data possible to help determine who troopers were interacting with during their daily patrols. 

"When the department implemented this more detailed data collection, our intention was to allow for supervisors and commanders to have more precise data to review should questions arise about suspected misconduct. Further, a pro-active assessment of the data was also planned, but has yet to commence. This assessment will be conducted in the near future and once complete will be available for public review.

"It must be emphasized that stopping motorists without proper grounds or using race to select whom a trooper stops is in direct violation of the MSP Code of Conduct, the MSP Community Relations Policy, Official Order 12 - Recognizing and Reporting Discriminatory Harassment and Civil Rights Violations Involving Department Members, and the MSP Discriminatory Harassment Policy.

"If a trooper is accused of stopping a motorist without proper grounds, a thorough and objective internal investigation will be conducted."