Massachusetts Police Departments Allowed To Collect Officer Information For Racial Profiling Assessment

In 2000, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a law dealing with the issue of racial profiling by police agencies. The law set forth a two-part data collection procedure.

As part of the first phase, the Registry of Motor Vehicles collected data from any Massachusetts uniformed citation issued during a traffic stop. The Registry of Motor Vehicles then transmitted the collected data to Northeastern University for analysis. Based on its analysis, Northeastern University issued a report in 2004 finding that 249 of 366 Massachusetts law enforcement agencies appeared to have engaged in racial or gender profiling, including the City of Boston.

The second phase of data collection required those cities identified by the report as appearing to have engaged in racial or gender profiling to collect data on all traffic stops for one year, including those stops that did not result in a warning, citation, or arrest. The law also requires that data be collected on why the stop was made and “the other information already required under the Massachusetts Uniform Citation.” The Massachusetts Uniform Citation form requires the inclusion of officer identification information.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association challenged the second phase of data collection, alleging that a separate section of the racial profiling law prohibited the collection of the names of officers who had made the traffic stops. The section of the law on which the Association relied provides that “individual data acquired under this section shall be used only for statistical purposes and may not contain information that may reveal the identity of any individual who is stopped or any law enforcement officer.”

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts rejected the Association’s lawsuit. The Court found that the language cited by the Association applied only to the first phase of the data collection project, and not to the second phase which occurred after an agency was cited as appearing to engage in racial profiling. The Court noted that the racial profiling law stated that one of its purposes was “to identify and eliminate any instances of racial and gender profiling by police officers.” This purpose, the Court found, indicated that “the Legislature intended to permit police departments to collect officer identification information. Law enforcement agencies cannot be expected to combat instances of profiling by individual police officers, as the law mandates, without data on the specific officers responsible for acts of gender or racial profiling.”

Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association v. Police Department of Boston, 841 N.E.2d 1229 (Mass. 2006).

This article appears in the April 2006 issue