Balto. Co. police to analyze traffic stops

Information in 2 precincts is for evaluating system to detect racial profiling

November 03, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

During the past month, police officers at two Baltimore County precincts have had to document nearly every traffic stop they made. Now, the department is ready to analyze data from those stops -- more than 500 in all -- and to evaluate the effectiveness of a system it has developed to detect racial profiling.

The monthlong test run is part of the department's effort to comply with a new state law that requires all law enforcement agencies with more than 100 officers to have a data collection system in place by Jan. 1.

The information will be used to help state officials decide if police are practicing racial profiling -- stopping someone because of their race.

One shift of officers and the community action teams at the Woodlawn and Essex precincts participated in Baltimore County's pilot program, which ended Wednesday.

The officers were required to keep records of every traffic stop, except those made at checkpoints or when vehicles were stopped for emergencies.

"We are trying to walk before we run on this," said Bill Toohey, a police spokesman. "We wanted to see how do we get this information, how do we process the information. All of this we've got to learn."

The law, enacted in the spring, requires officers to keep statistics on who is stopped, why and the outcome of the stop

The law makes exceptions for roadblocks and stops made through the use of radar, but county police decided this summer to include radar stops, Toohey said.

Law enforcement agencies must file their first reports with the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission in March 2003. Reports must be filed yearly after that.

The commission and the Maryland Justice Analysis Center at the University of Maryland, College Park will compile the data and make annual reports to the governor and state legislature.

Agencies with 50 to 100 officers will begin keeping statistics in 2003, and agencies with fewer than 50 will begin in 2004, said Jim Durner, an administrator for the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission.

Several larger police departments across the state -- including Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Howard County -- have begun keeping statistics, Durner said

Baltimore County police have developed forms that state the driver's race, sex and age, and ask why the officer made the stop. Officers also have to state whether they searched the vehicle.

Toohey said the county's pilot program will allow commanders to evaluate potential problems with the system before the department's 1,700 officers are required to fill out the forms in January.

"We are learning, and some of what we are learning about it is going to involve training," Toohey said.

Some officers had trouble remembering to document drivers' birth dates when they began filling out the form, Toohey said.

The Essex and Woodlawn precincts were selected for the pilot program because they "are a good cross-section of the county," Toohey said.

The two shifts at each precinct completed 533 forms between Oct 1 and Oct. 22, the last date for which statistics were available. Those forms will be entered into a central database for processing, Toohey said.

Cole Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said yesterday he has heard no complaints from officers about having to fill out the forms.

"It's the law, and we are going comply with it," Weston said.

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