Montgomery officials hope to discourage racial profiling

County enters agreement with Justice Department

January 15, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Montgomery County hopes to become the first local government in the Mid-Atlantic region to launch a program approved by the U.S. Justice Department to discourage racial discrimination in traffic stops.

The move follows a three-year investigation by the department into a 1996 complaint by the Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP alleging that police used excessive force against minorities, harassed them and used racial profiling in traffic stops.

"There's nothing in the agreement that alters the authority of police officers," said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose yesterday. Moosesaid his 1,054 officers would not be hindered in making arrests.

The investigation found no evidence of excessive force or harassment, but it did find that police gave minorities a disproportionate number of traffic tickets, according to Justice Department officials.

While minorities make up about 14 percent of the driving population in the county, they received 21 percent of the traffic citations in 1997 and 1998, officials said.

The county made an agreement with the Justice Department to bar officers from considering a driver's race when making traffic stops except when race is part of the description of a criminal suspect.

The agreement must be approved by the county Fraternal Order of Police. It would require the county to:

Track all traffic stops by documenting the driver's race, gender and the reason for the stop.

Review computerized reports on race and traffic stops and take corrective actions against officers who discriminate.

Issue twice-yearly public reports providing traffic stop statistics by race.

Hire an expert to improve training for officers and teach them to be more racially sensitive and avoid using racial profiling.

Speed the processing of complaints civilians file with the police department's internal affairs office, requiring reviews to be complete within 90 days.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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