Maine’s Law Enforcement Agencies, Like Those of Most States, Don’t Track Complaints Against Police Officers
by Douglas Ankney
The WMTW 8 Investigates Team partnered with the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition to review hundreds of documents and other data obtained from 135 Maine law enforcement agencies (“Agencies”). The Agencies were asked to provide the number of citizen complaints against officers and the details on any subsequent disciplinary action from 2016 through January 2022. The materials provided—or lack thereof—clearly reveal that although it is public information, Maine has no uniform system for tracking and maintaining such records.
Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills (who is also president of the police union known as Maine Chiefs of Police Association) decried such a state-of-affairs as being unacceptable. But he blamed it on “strained resources,” stating, “They don’t all have that same data system…. They don’t have that stuff at their fingertips.”
For nearly 30 years, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the FBI have failed to collect information about the use of force by America’s roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in spite of a 1994 crime bill authorizing them to do so. The DOJ directly oversees the FBI—but neither can compel local agencies to provide this data. Submission of use-of-force data is entirely voluntary and non-reporting is so widespread that the Government Accountability Office suggested putting the national use of force database out of its useless misery rather than waste more tax dollars on it.
Such information could help weed out bad cops. It could also show areas where police officers need additional training to protect both themselves and the public from unnecessary violence and injury.
But collecting and documenting use of force complaints can also lead to officer discipline and an agency’s tarnished public image—things powerful police unions oppose. So until legislation is passed forcing these agencies to comply, all of us will be forced to rely upon sporadic news coverage of the most outrageous acts of unlawful uses of force by law enforcement.
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