Racial profile ban is OK'd

House approves halt to police stops based on ethnicity

`Legislature has spoken'

Maryland Senate, governor are likely to back measure

March 03, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a bill yesterday aiming to end the use of race by police in making traffic stops.

"It's no longer a question of whether racial profiling is happening," said Del. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat and the bill's chief sponsor. "The legislature has spoken that it is, and it is time to change."

The measure goes now to the Senate, which is expected to approve it and send it to Gov. Parris N. Glendening for his signature. The bill is part of the governor's legislative package.

It would require local law enforcement agencies to adopt rules banning the practice known as racial profiling - using a person's race or ethnic background as a basis for traffic stops - and train their officers to follow those rules.

Officers would have to fill out forms detailing whom they stopped, why and the outcome. The data would be studied by the Maryland Justice Analysis Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, with annual reports being made to the governor and the General Assembly.

Last year, the House approved similar legislation, but it was defeated in the Senate in the session's final days when it became caught up in a political feud between some Baltimore senators and the bill's chief sponsor, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat.

This year, with Gladden leading the bill through the House, no such conflict occurred, key city senators said.

"You will see racial profiling go through with no problems," said Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, one of the senators who worked to kill last year's measure. "Last year's vote had nothing to do with the issue of racial profiling. It was about other things."

The racial profiling bill reflects an increasing national concern about the 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 already collecting information about whom their officers stop.

As a result of a 1995 legal settlement, the state police also collect those statistics for stops by troopers stationed in the Harford County barracks on Interstate 95.

In yesterday's 129-2 House vote, the only "no" votes were from Del. Thomas E. Hutchins of Charles County and Del. James M. Kelly of Baltimore County, both Republicans.

Hutchins questioned the cost of the bill - perhaps as much as $1.2 million for the state, as well as an undetermined amount for local agencies - as well as the effect the measure may have on officers.

"It may cause hesitancy on the part of officers to push the envelope in looking for drugs," Hutchins said. "Those trafficking drugs are going to know that it's going to be a heck of a lot easier to travel through Maryland."

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican and the House minority whip, dismissed concerns about the cost.

"I don't know how often racial profiling occurs, but I know that if it occurs at all, that's too much," Flanagan said. "It is time and resources that are well spent. Expenditure of funds to promote racial justice is appropriate."

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