Senate OKs bill on racial profiling

It would require police to adopt rules barring the practice

March 23, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Senate unanimously approved yesterday legislation that would require police departments to adopt rules aimed at barring their officers from using race as a basis for making traffic stops.

Black legislators and Gov. Parris N. Glendening applauded the 46-0 vote on the bill to address the practice known as racial profiling. The House of Delegates has passed a similar measure, and final General Assembly approval is considered certain.

"This is a very strong statement by Maryland of the importance of police officers not to engage in racial profiling," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "It's a victory for the minority community and Governor Glendening. More important, it's a victory for the Legislative Black Caucus."

The bill requires law enforcement agencies to adopt policies prohibiting race-based traffic stops and to train their officers to follow those rules. Officers would have to fill out forms detailing whom they stopped, why and the outcome.

The information would be sent to the Maryland Justice Analysis Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, which is to make annual reports to the governor and the General Assembly. State analysts estimate it would cost about $1.2 million to carry out the bill.

The state's black legislators made the bill's passage a priority this year. Many had watched in dismay last year as a similar bill died on the final day of the session, a victim of political infighting between Baltimore senators and Rawlings, who sponsored the bill.

Over the summer, Glendening agreed to make ending racial profiling part of his legislative agenda. That decision almost guaranteed the bill's passage and kept it from becoming a political football.

"The caucus members stuck together on this one," said Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the black caucus. "We were looking forward to it coming back."

The General Assembly's strong support for 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 already collecting information about whom their officers stop. During hearings on the legislation, Baltimore officials said their police stop about 1,400 vehicles a month.

Maryland State Police also collect statistics for stops by troopers stationed in the Harford County barracks on Interstate 95. That action is the result of a 1995 agreement to settle a lawsuit brought by a Washington lawyer.

"The reality is that racial profiling occurs, and it's wrong," Glendening said. "This bill will make it illegal, and there will be a mechanism in place to help stop it."

The provisions would be phased in over three years to give smaller departments time to comply. Agencies that did not follow the requirements would be reported to the governor and the General Assembly. The bill does not have any penalties for noncompliance.

Del. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat and the bill's chief sponsor, said she looks forward to the signing of the measure and to the beginning of work by police that would allow people to drive in the state without fear of being stopped because of their race.

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