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Portland police review shows racial disparities in arrests

On top of disparities in race, a third of all arrests placed in Portland from 2018 to 2020 were for people experiencing homelessness.

PORTLAND, Maine — A report by the University of Southern Maine and Northeastern University found several racial disparities in arrests among the Portland Police Department.

The report, which was requested by the department, took more than a year to complete, according to George Shaler, a senior research associate at USM.

"I have to give the Portland Police Department some credit... they wanted to engage with both USM and Northeastern in this study," Shaler said.

The study analyzed arrest data from the department between 2018 and 2020. The key findings include an increased rate of arrests for Black Mainers.

It found that while Black people account for around five percent of Portland's population, they make up 17 percent of all arrests.

The highest number of arrests occurred in the West Bayside neighborhood.

It also found that during the reporting period, a third of all arrests were of people experiencing homelessness.

Shaler said a correlation with those statistics is that the West Bayside neighborhood is the location of Portland's Oxford Street Shelter.

"Right now we have a crisis of sorts, and some of that is spilling into law enforcement," Shaler said. "I think the city and the police department need to get a handle on this."

Representatives with the Portland Police Department could not be reached for an interview Tuesday.

While the disparities showed a disproportionate amount of Black people pulled over on the road compared to white people, Shaler pointed out that more white people ended up getting citations. 

He said the findings also came up without enough evidence to say there is racial bias among individual officers.

"That doesn't mean they don't exist, but the data we were able to look at did not reveal any bias based in policing," Shaler said.

South Portland is in possession of the completed report for its police department, according to Shaler. The police department in South Portland was contacted for a copy of that report.

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