While police chiefs and policy makers gave their overwhelming support yesterday to a bill that would track police traffic stops, Jamal Scruggs put a human face on the issue known as racial profiling.
Scruggs, a psychology major at Howard University, told the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee that he was stopped twice in two months by police who said they thought he was driving a stolen car. Scruggs, who is African-American, assured the officers that the car was his.
"It was really scary to me, having all these police officers with guns on me," said Scruggs, 19.
The racial profiling bill is aimed at discouraging police from using a person's race or ethnic background as a basis for stopping them. It would require officers to fill out forms detailing whom they stopped, why and the outcome.
The information would be examined by the Maryland Justice Analysis Center at the University of Maryland, which would make annual reports to the governor and the General Assembly.
The House of Delegates approved similar legislation last year, but the measure died in the Senate when it became a tool in a political feud between Baltimore senators and the bill's sponsor, Del. Howard P. Rawlings.
This year, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has made the bill part of his legislative agenda. The bill is being shepherded through the House by Del. Lisa A. Gladden, who like Rawlings is a Baltimore Democrat.
The governor's decision to introduce the bill is seen as virtually assuring its passage. Yesterday, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend testified in support of the legislation, calling racial profiling "one of the most stubborn and imposing obstacles to creating trust between neighborhoods and police."
"Racial profiling is wrong. It is inconsistent with our democratic values," Townsend said. "Racial profiling is simply bad policing."
The bill reflects a growing concern nationally about a perceived -- and often documented -- tendency among police to stop and search blacks and other minorities at a much higher rate than whites. Police departments in Montgomery and Howard counties and in Baltimore are collecting information about who their officers stop.
The Maryland State Police collects those statistics for stops by troopers stationed in the Harford County barracks on I-95. That action is the result of a 1995 agreement to settle a lawsuit brought by a Washington lawyer.
"Racial profiling is not only wrong, it's unlawful. We know that," said Col. David B. Mitchell, state police superintendent. "We stand wholeheartedly behind House Bill 303."
If passed, the legislation would take effect July 1. Police departments would start collecting information next January.
The proposed law would require the Police Training Commission to develop a form and guidelines for officers to follow in filling it out.
The racial profiling issue was debated in the General Assembly during the past two legislative sessions.
Last year, a bill that would have subjected offending officers to fines of up to $1,000 died in committee. Del. David M. Valderrama, a Prince George's Democrat, has submitted a similar bill this year, but that measure that appears to have little support.