Baltimore police will start keeping records on traffic stops as part of the department's efforts to address public concerns about racial profiling, Commissioner Edward T. Norris announced yesterday.
The department's measures will begin Jan. 1. Officers will record the driver's name and race, the purpose of the stop and the officer's name. Drivers will receive a receipt stating why they were stopped.
Norris said he doesn't believe the department is guilty of racial profiling but said he wanted to work with the public to address concerns and allay fears. The commissioner said the department will collect the information and issue a report next year. Officers found to have abused their powers could be disciplined.
"I think the root of the problem with all this is poor communication on both sides," Norris said.
The commissioner said police also will publish and distribute a pamphlet describing what to do when stopped. He said he hopes the pamphlet will help defuse what he described as a "traumatic encounter" for officers and drivers. It will be printed in English, Spanish and possibly Korean, and will be targeted especially toward high school and college students.
"What I hope this does is educate the public," he said.
Norris noted that though some states are being legally compelled to keep records on who their police officers stop, his department has taken the initiative.
Howard County police announced last year they were launching a similar record-keeping system.
Worries about racial profiling, zero tolerance and the department's attitude toward minorities were key parts of the discussions during the City Council's confirmation hearings for Norris, a former New York City commander credited with being the chief architect of New York's policing strategy.
This spring, City Council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake introduced legislation asking the police commissioner to develop a method for tracking police traffic stops.
"This goes far beyond what we as a council requested the department to do," Rawlings Blake said of the commissioner's plan. "We've had so many complaints from citizens saying they didn't even know why they were stopped."
Rawlings' father, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, introduced a similar measure on the state level this year. That measure died during the final hours of the legislative session, but the governor has promised to introduce another in January.
Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr., chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said minorities aren't the only group victimized by racial profiling.
"Whenever you see whites driving in a black neighborhood, invariably the suspicion is that they're there to buy drugs," said Handy, who also supports the department's efforts. "I don't suggest that this is a departmentwide problem, by no means. But we know there are people who exploit their badges."
Also yesterday, the council approved legislation to give firms owned by minorities and women a larger share of city contracts. The bill, which passed unanimously, replaces a law that failed challenges in the federal courts. One reason for the law's failure was that the city had not kept records to prove its effectiveness or its need.
The new law requires city departments to make regular reports on how much business the city is giving women and minorities.
Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh, who shepherded the bill through the council, said it complements an executive order issued last month by Mayor Martin O'Malley. That order recommended the city give 35 percent of its contracts to female- and minority-owned firms.