Arundel police, church leaders to discuss racial profiling

Minister reports blacks' complaints they were targeted in traffic stops

May 04, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County police officials will meet today with the pastor and members of a predominantly black church who say that police are stopping black motorists for no apparent reason, a practice known as racial profiling.

The hastily arranged meeting occurs two days after the Rev. Barbara Sands, leader of the 588-member Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church outside Annapolis, delivered a sermon and distributed fliers advising her flock to contact police if they felt unfairly targeted. She said a few families had told her in the past two weeks about traffic stops and searches of black men that seemed to be without reason and resulted in no arrests.

After receiving about a half-dozen calls yesterday, police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan asked to meet with Sands and congregants who suspect they or their children have endured such stops.

Racial profiling -- which has popularized the phrase "driving while black" -- is the practice of using race to assess the likelihood of criminal behavior. Allegations of minority profiling have hit numerous police agencies around the country, including Maryland State Police. The Justice Department is investigating complaints of profiling by the New Jersey State Police and by departments in Eastpointe, Mich., and Orange County, Fla.

Anne Arundel police said this was the first they heard the allegation made against their department, and the complaint concerned them.

"That's not something we subscribe to," said Officer Tom O'Connor, Shanahan's aide. "We don't do those things."

He said police will look into the nature and time of the complaints to see what else might have been going on in the area of the arrests at the same time.

Sands said today's meeting is purposely being kept small but she hoped other meetings would follow.

On Sunday, when her sermon decried profiling as racist, she saw congregants nod their heads in agreement, she said.

"There seems to be a problem that perhaps is arising," Sands said. She said she did not know how long it might have been going on.

"We see it as racist. It does not promote trust between the community and the police. It promotes distrust," she said.

Sands said it is of particular importance to the church's outreach work with young people and in building a rapport between them and authorities.

"We are trying to tell them to call the police when there are issues going on and there are things you can't handle," she said.

She said she does not want relations between minorities and police to deteriorate into shootings and brutality.

Minority complaints about police treatment have come to the fore amid such widely publicized incidents as the fatal police shooting in February of an unarmed immigrant in New York City.

Last month, Attorney General Janet Reno called for the collection of more data to learn whether and where police are using profiling. She praised a new program that requires San Diego police to record the race of people in traffic stops on a hand-held computer.

Also last month, the Customs Service created an independent panel to review its policies and practices in checking for drug smugglers among airline passengers.

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