Howard program to address traffic stops based on race

October 21, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Howard County police officials announced yesterday they will begin a program that will allow them to weed out officers who use race as a basis for traffic stops -- a step taken by no other department in the Baltimore area and by only a handful across the country.

Police Chief Wayne Livesay said his purpose is to open a "dialogue" with the minority community and reassure it that he will not tolerate racial profiling as a means to fight crime.

"I am not naive enough to think these things [racial profiling] are not occurring," he said. "But I can't stand here and say I know of specific cases, either."

Livesay and Howard County Executive James N. Robey said at a press conference attended by black community leaders that a database tracking officers' actions would be created -- they hope by the beginning of next year, they said.

Officers would record the race of people they stop under any circumstances.

While Maryland State Police are required by a court settlement to keep statistics on their traffic stops, few departments in the nation are willing to take on what can amount to an administrative nightmare, raising more questions then it answers, law enforcement experts say.

In Montgomery County, law enforcement officials are studying ways to develop an anti-profiling program. Four California departments -- San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland -- voluntarily began to compile similar databases in May, according to Robert Lunney, a consultant with the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum.

State police in North Carolina and Connecticut and police in Brookline, Mass., also are collecting data, he said.

"I believe this type of thing is being done in the interest of openness and honesty in the police departments," Lunney said.

Racial profiling has become a national issue after several departments -- including state police in Maryland and New Jersey -- were accused of stopping motorists because of their race.

In April, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno asked police departments to collect data that could be used to back up police claims that they do not use racial profiles to develop probable cause for traffic stops or searches of vehicles.

Also in May, police chiefs from the nation's largest departments met with community leaders in Washington and agreed to devise a national standard for traffic stops.

The plan, when completed, would address how cars are chosen for stops and the demeanor of the officers.

Pub Date: 10/21/99

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