The cities of Portland and South Portland are embarking on a comprehensive and historical analysis of their respective police departments’ arrests, summonses, citations and uses of force to ascertain whether either of the departments have engaged in disproportionate enforcement activities. The cities are contracting with the University of Southern Maine’s Cutler Institute and Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The project will be funded by the two cities and Northeastern University’s Roux Institute based in Portland.
“This will help us not only assess and understand our historical data, taking appropriate action, as necessary, but will also place us on a trajectory for having a sustainable process to analyze our enforcement related demographic data moving forward,” said Portland Police Chief Frank Clark.
“We are very excited to partner with both universities and have them provide us with an objective interpretation of the data,” said South Portland Police Chief Tim Sheehan.
Researchers from USM and Northeastern University will explore historic and demographic trends in the departments’ law enforcement activities.
“We will examine three years of data from 2018 to 2020 from both departments to study arrests, summonses, traffic citations and uses of force,” said Sarah Goan, director of the Data Innovation Project at USM's Cutler Institute and a senior research associate in the Institute’s Children, Youth and Families Program.
Jack McDevitt, professor of the practice in criminology and criminal justice, and director of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University, has participated in similar studies across the country. “We are excited to work with such agencies who voluntarily choose to look at possible racial and ethnic disparities in enforcement practices,” McDevitt said. “This is unique, as most agencies only agree to this kind of transparency and analysis as a result of legislative requirements or litigation.”
The project will be carried out over the next 12 months and will happen in three phases. The first phase will explore the quality and availability of existing data and work with key stakeholders.
The second phase will develop and deploy a research methodology for understanding trends and demographic breakdowns and appropriate geographic designations for both cities with a focus on arrests and summonses. The demographics of interest will be race, ethnicity, age, gender, geography (location of arrest or crime report and residency of the arrestee) as well as the available demographics of the arresting officer. With the support of the Roux Institute, the research team will complete the remaining analysis accordingly, to include: traffic citations and uses of force.
For the final project phase, the research team will transition the work over to the Portland Police and South Portland Police and build the capacity of both departments to conduct the analysis going forward. This phase will primarily be supported by the Roux Institute and consist of documentation, developing visuals and templates and providing training and assistance to both departments.
“The Department is excited about this process,” Sheehan said. “We are hoping the resulting data will enhance our continuous efforts to provide the best service possible to all the populations we serve.”
“I look forward to working closely with my former colleagues at the South Portland Police Department, as well as the two universities, to increase our overall understanding of the data and bolster our regional law enforcement practices,” Clark said.