- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

The Montgomery and Prince George's county police departments have announced that patrol cars will soon be equipped with onboard cameras to record traffic stops and, according to proponents, thereby address public concerns about racial profiling and police brutality. Public outcry over the death last April of Junious W. Roberts, an unarmed African-American who was shot in the back by a Montgomery County police officer along with other incidents of a similar nature prompted the move as a way to keep tabs on what happens during traffic stops.

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose has requested $680,000 to equip 108 police cruisers with video cameras; Prince George's County expects to have 100 cruisers outfitted by summer, according to Police Chief John S. Farrell.

While having cameras in cruisers is probably a good idea it keeps tabs on both the cops and their "customers" the next part of the story is not. Under an agreement reached with the Justice Department in the wake of a four-year investigation of alleged police brutality, Montgomery County officers will also be required to question drivers as to their age, sex and race. This is going too far.

Imagine the ludicrous exchanges that will follow. For instance: "Are you male or female?" Or the downright offensive: "What race are you?" Meanwhile, this policy does nothing to address any legitimate concerns about the unfair targeting of minority motorists, but it does have the potential to create the impression that racism and abuse exist where neither, in fact, does.

As in any other quota system, it is pernicious to demand that enforcement of traffic laws be meted out on the basis of racial proportionality. Picture this: A cop sees a white driver blow through a stop sign, but he lets the guy go because he's already stopped too many white guys that day. Or later on, a black driver runs a red light but he likewise gets a free pass since the cop who saw it knows he's already pulled-over his "quota" of African-American motorists today.

Law enforcement must be objective and color-blind or it is worthless. To inject racial politics into police work is a dangerous thing indeed. And to turn cops into racial bean-counters each time they make a traffic stop is ridiculous. Those cameras ought to be sufficient to keep tabs on cops who might be inclined to play fast and loose with the law because they have a problem with minority motorists.

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