State police will be required to document race on traffic stops

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A new state police policy is designed to be transparent when it comes to racial profiling.

Michigan State Police troopers will soon have to document the race of drivers they stop. It is supposed to provide hard data to find if there's a pattern of profiling but some say the extra step isn't needed. 

It's a small victory in the push for police transparency. Come January Michigan State Police will require troopers to record the race of people they stop and enter it into their logging system called E-Daily.

The department says troopers were doing this before but the program would automatically change the race of those stopped to "unknown."   And there was no mandate troopers override that glitch.

ACLU attorney Mark Fancher.

"It left everyone with no record of who they're stopping and their racial identity," said ACLU attorney Mark Fancher. "And any concerns that we and others might have about whether troopers were being racially selective about who they stop, are left without proof."

ACLU Michigan pressed the issue after seeing our story with Trooper Craig Tuer back in March.

He slammed MSP's performance evaluations that are based on troopers meeting department averages in terms of stops, arrests and the like.

"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."

And Tuer says troopers with subpar numbers come evaluation time are inclined to target minorities and people who appear poor and powerless, so they can make the grade.

"I do not believe any trooper I've ever worked with would intentionally racially profile if they weren't pressured by the command and that's what's missing in this entire letter," said Trooper Ann Poehlman.

Poehlman is a 23 year state police veteran who weighed in on the new policy and while she says it's a step in the right direction, there may be a loophole--troopers can still enter "unknown" if they cannot reasonably determine someone's race.

FOX 2: "Is that something that could potentially be abused?"

"Well absolutely, unknown is unknown," she said. "If an individual wants to hide what they're doing they'll find a way."

The department of state police says troopers document race in 68 percent of their enforcement contacts, but Fancher argues that figure may not be reliable because it's an average of all state troopers.

"We might want to look at a particular city and if we look at it, that might be a city where nobody is recording the racial identities of people," Fancher said. "But there may be another city where everybody is, but when you average all of those together it comes out to 68 percent."

State police say this policy will give supervisors an idea of what happens on a daily basis and can launch investigations if needed. The ACLU says it will be watching.