Police to look into stops of young black motorists

Race-profiling complaints prompt chief's action

May 05, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Responding to allegations that officers stop young black motorists for no clear reason and search their cars, Anne Arundel County police said yesterday that they will collect racial statistics on traffic citations and check them for patterns.

The decision to examine the traffic stops came after members of a predominantly black church outside Annapolis complained that police appeared to engage in what is known as racial profiling.

"It is not a department policy. It is not tolerated," county Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan said after he met for about 90 minutes yesterday with leaders of Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church. "We don't do it. We don't condone it. I don't want that perception."

Shanahan said he wants to look into the allegation as soon as possible but that he doesn't know how long it will take to collect the data.

He said he does not know whether the information can be readily collected by a computer or will require a manual search.

"We are looking at our data and looking at trends," Shanahan said.

Last year, police issued about 106,000 traffic citations, he said. Stops in which no citations were issued will not be included in the review.

Police and church leaders will meet again in about two weeks, said Gerald Stansbury, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Stansbury is a member of Asbury Broadneck United Methodist.

"We came here with a goal of addressing concerns and making new friends, and I think we have accomplished that goal," Shanahan said after he and two top police officials met with the Rev. Barbara Sands, Stansbury and a few congregants.

Church leaders said they are pleased that Shanahan was quick to respond and called the meeting a productive first step.

"As concerned citizens and men of Asbury Broadneck, we have to let our children know we are concerned about them and their security," said Randy Rowel, a lay leader. He said he is filing a formal complaint about recent police stops of a family member.

He said one stop was at night on Route 214, an unlighted, winding road. He said police searched the car, then told the three or four young black men in the car that it was stopped because they were not wearing seat belts. They were issued a citation.

"They were pulled over because they didn't have a seat belt? How you see a seat belt at night on a dark 214 beats me," Rowel said. "I want to know what are the criteria for how they choose who to stop."

"The chief will get back with us. I believe that he will ask the questions," Sands said.

It was her Sunday sermon that brought the issue to the fore.

Sands decried racial profiling and distributed a flier advising members of her nearly 600-member church to call the police chief if they felt they were being harassed. After about half a dozen people called Shanahan Monday, he sought a meeting.

Sands said the church strives to help teen-agers build good rapport with their parents and authorities, and tries to teach them to call police for help. But they have to trust the police to do that, she said.

Sands said she hopes to help Anne Arundel County avoid the allegations of brutality, harassment and other offenses that police departments elsewhere have faced.

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