- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2000

ANNAPOLIS Maryland police officers would have to be careful not to exceed racial quotas in their traffic stops under a bill that has garnered strong support in the Maryland General Assembly.

A new anti-racial-profiling bill, spawned by heightened concern in Maryland and across the country that police unfairly target blacks, calls for tracking the race of drivers pulled over on traffic stops and a review of officers who stop a disproportionate number of minorities.

"Too many of our citizens black, white and Hispanic believe the scales of justice are not balanced," said state Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, a black Baltimore Democrat and the bill's sponsor.

Mr. Rawlings' bill has drawn support from more than 60 members of the House of Delegates and from leaders in Maryland's law enforcement community.

"There's a confrontation in policing that's never going to go away but there's got to be a belief that across the board we are doing our jobs," said Col. David B. Mitchell, superintendent of the Maryland State Police. "We've got to replenish our bank account of good will with the community."

Maryland settled a lawsuit in 1995 agreeing that state police would not use race as a factor in traffic stops. But two years later, a federal judge ruled that there was still evidence of discrimination in traffic stops along Interstate 95 in northeastern Maryland.

Other law enforcement officials warned lawmakers that statistics tell only a part of the story.

"Raw statistics alone do not infer that an individual officer is violating a citizen's rights," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a supporter of the bill.

The attorney general told lawmakers that stops should only be made for real traffic violations but he added that stopping drivers for minor infractions when officers have reason to suspect more serious violations is a practice that must not be prohibited. "Pretextual stops … are a valuable tool of law enforcement," said Mr. Curran, who is white.

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said collecting data on individual officers could have a "chilling effect" and could lead to fewer traffic stops.

In fact, according to Col. Mitchell, 40 percent of all illegal drugs recovered in the United States are recovered by uniformed officers making traffic stops.

"We know we have an epidemic of drug abuse in this country and we would be shirking our duty if we didn't search for signs of drugs on traffic stops," said Col. Mitchell, who is white.

Montgomery County police are already required to record the length of stops as well as all the other information called for in Mr. Rawlings' bill under its agreement with the U.S. Justice Department. Federal investigators found, after a three-year probe, that Montgomery County police stopped blacks in disproportionate numbers.

Chief Moose suggested that police departments compile traffic-stop data from several officers in the same geographic area without attributing statistics to individuals. That way officers would not fear being singled out if their statistics happen to show the percentage of minority drivers they stopped exceeded the percentage of minorities in the general population a threshold that would trigger a review under Mr. Rawlings' bill.

"I have a strong opposition to racial profiling," said Chief Moose, who is black and has a doctorate in urban studies and criminology. "We don't have enough scientific data to tell if it's a problem."

Like many other states, including Virginia, Maryland does not record a person's race on his or her driver's license. But Maryland would have to start recording race on licenses under the bill.

All state and local police officers would have to record details about each traffic stop such as age, sex, time, reason, location, whether anyone was searched and whether the search was with the person's consent, whether contraband was discovered and whether the stop resulted in a warning, citation or arrest.

Chief Moose also wants police to record the duration of each traffic stop.

Congress is considering requiring state and local police to submit data for a study of traffic stops. At least 20 state legislatures discussed the issue in 1999, but only North Carolina and Connecticut passed bills similar to the one being considered in Maryland.

The Maryland Municipal League was the only organization that testified against the bill. Its members agree there is a problem with racial profiling, but are concerned that some portions of the bill would create an unfunded mandate that small police departments could not afford, said lobbyist Teresa Milio Birge.

State police make more traffic stops than any other agency in the state (about 644,000 annually) and estimate the legislation could increase their expenses by $1.4 million next year and as much as $1.6 million in 2005.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide