ACLU wants state police to examine stops for profiling

Christine Ferretti

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is urging state police to launch an internal review of traffic stops in the wake of racial profiling claims involving black and Latino motorists on Interstate 94.

The ACLU, in a Thursday letter to Michigan State Police Director Col. Kristie Kibbey Etue, is asking the department to review whether black and Latino motorists are pulled over on the freeway at a rate “significantly higher” than white motorists.

Mark Fancher, an ACLU of Michigan staff attorney, said the ACLU wants state officials to bring on a consultant to conduct a “comprehensive internal evaluation of traffic stop patterns with respect to race” and share them with the public.

“We think it’s due,” he told The News. “If they are not engaging in racial profiling and a consultant finds that, it’s useful information. It helps the public to know they can possibly have greater trust in state police than they may have because of these suspicious things.”

State police officials on Thursday made clear that stopping a motorist without proper grounds or based on race is a violation of the department’s conduct code.

“If a trooper is accused of stopping a motorist without proper grounds, a thorough and objective internal investigation will be conducted,” the department said in a statement.

The ACLU sought state records involving traffic stops made by MSP’s Fifth District Hometown Security Team near Paw Paw after concerns were raised in fall of 2016.

Fancher referenced two unrelated incidents in which African-American drivers were stopped by members of the Fifth District team on separate Friday nights on claims they were following too closely behind tractor trailers.

But rather than receiving warnings or tickets, he said, both were ordered out of their vehicles, questioned at length “about whether they were transporting drugs or other contraband” and their vehicles were searched.

“Other African-American drivers have contacted us as well with accounts of stops by troopers that differ ...,” Fancher’s letter notes, “... but which nevertheless left them with suspicions that they had been racially profiled.”

Records from Nov. 15, 2016, through Nov. 17, 2016, provided to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act referenced one trooper’s contact with 15 individuals who were either drivers or passengers, according to the letter.

Of the 15, seven were identified as black, four were Hispanic and three others were white. The race of the one driver was not identified.

The ACLU later requested records of stops made by members of the security team on six randomly selected Fridays during the first quarter of 2017.

Those records, they say, include traffic stops that brought team members into contact with 82 individuals who were either drivers or passengers.

Almost 48 percent were identified by the troopers as black, Hispanic or Asian. About 24 percent were identified as white, and another 28 percent were reported to be of unknown racial identity.

The state police implemented a policy of mandatory reporting of racial identities in January 2017.

The department said it enhanced its ability to capture demographic data to help determine whom troopers were interacting with during 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,” the statement said.

Further, a pro-active assessment of the data collected since 2017 also was planned, but “has yet to commence.”

“This assessment will be conducted in the near future and once complete, will be available for public review,” the department said.