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State police will be required to document the race of people they stop

A Michigan State Police file photo.
Michigan State Police
A new policy will hopefully help supervisors track any racial profiling

State police will now be required to document the race of people they stop.

This change comes after the ACLU of Michigan recently expressed concern about possible racial profiling in an open letter to the Michigan State Police.

State officers have quotas for traffic stops and arrests, but they haven’t been required to document the race of who they stop in their daily electronic logs.

That will change starting January 1, Captain Greg Zarotney told the ACLU in a letter sent September 28.

“With this change, supervisors will have more precise data to review if questions arise regarding the activities of a trooper. If supervisors identify concerns with a trooper’s activity, as in any other case of suspected misconduct, a thorough and objective internal investigation would result.”

However, Captain Zarotney noted that troopers are usually documenting race already, even though it’s not currently required.

“Further analysis indicated that troopers are documenting race in 68% of enforcement contacts. Put another way, 32% of the individuals encountered by troopers have been identified as ‘unknown’ in the E-Daily category of race in 2016.”

ACLU attorney Mark Fancher says this policy change is a good first step.

“We will at least have data to either demonstrate that our suspicions are correct, or that we are completely off base here,” he said. “We really do hope that Michigan State Police are not engaging in racial profiling. I think that would be good news for everybody.”

Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner says it's not accurate to describe the state police's evaluation system - which tracks how many stops and arrests officers are making, and compares each officer's numbers against a common benchmark - as "quotas."

"The MSP does not have quotas for any trooper activity," Banner said in an email Friday. "Troopers are not required to stop, arrest, detain or cite a fixed number of motorists. The semi-annual Activity Analysis program is designed to provide a means of feedback to troopers on their performance in core areas of their job duties and to provide an objective mechanism for supervisors to evaluate each trooper’s performance measured against their peers at the post."

In August, Michigan State Police trooper Ann Poehlman saidtroopers are essentially given incentives to stop people who are poor or minorities.

“We are told to go to specific intersections, in specific areas, to get our numbers up,” Poehlman told Michigan Radio.  “If you go into poorer communities, or communities where they can’t afford an attorney or where they don’t feel supported by the court system, then it’s an easy ticket to write. You may never have to go court at all.

“And it’s minorities. We’re going to minority communities. And we know that they won’t have a driver’s license. And because we write them a ticket and let them go, we don’t care; it’s a number. If we stop that same person, they’ll probably have a warrant, because they can’t afford these astronomical fees, and it’s a misdemeanor. So we’ve created these high crime areas.”

Poehlman has filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights against her employer, alleging age discrimination and harassment, but the Michigan State Police say they cannot comment on personnel matters. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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