Police say data refute claims of racial profiling

Statistics on four months of traffic stops released

27% of drivers were black

But they were more likely to be arrested than whites

Howard County

July 02, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Howard County police released preliminary data on traffic stops by county police yesterday that they said indicate that they do not racially profile drivers.

But the numbers show that blacks who are stopped by Howard police are more likely to be arrested or searched than whites who are stopped, and some critics said the early numbers signal racial profiling.

Police agencies are required by state law to release 2002 traffic-stop data by March next year. Howard County officials released a portion of their statistics, complied between Jan. 1 and April 30, so the public could "see what we're doing," said police Chief Wayne Livesay.

County police stopped 19,541 drivers during the first four months of this year. About 65 percent were white, about 27 percent were black, less than 5 percent were Asian and less than 2 percent were Hispanic, according to the data.

Data from the 2000 Census show that 14 percent of Howard County residents identified themselves as black - a smaller share than the proportion of blacks who were stopped.

But Howard police said that nearly half of the drivers they stopped were not Howard County residents and that when the stop statistics are compared with the demographics of the greater Baltimore-Washington area, Howard police do not appear to be profiling blacks.

Blacks make up about 28 percent of the population of the greater Baltimore-Washington area, according to the police.

"I'm very comfortable with the data. ... I do not believe racial profiling is going on," Livesay said.

Others took a sharply different view.

"Irrespective of where they live, a lot of people of color are being stopped in the county," said Sherman Howell, a vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County. Howell said he believes the numbers signal that police are engaging in racial profiling.

Also, the statistics show that about 8 percent of the blacks stopped by police in Howard County in the first four months of this year were arrested or searched, compared with about 5 percent of whites.

Police officials said they would keep a close eye on those rates and they might be concerned if the numbers remain unchanged by the end of the year.

"It's not anything that sends a flag at this point. ... If that number is high at the end of the year, then it might take on a different meaning," said Cpl. Lisa Myers, a police spokeswoman.

The Howard police were praised by some for their openness with the statistics.

"I'm glad that they're in compliance, and I'm glad that they're open," said Del. Lisa A. Gladden, a Democrat who represents Northwest Baltimore and was a strong proponent of the traffic data bill. "This is a great step in improving policy-community relations."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who also sponsored the traffic data legislation, said he was not concerned with exact data yet and wants to wait until the numbers have been analyzed by the Maryland Justice Analysis Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, which will compile the data and make an annual report to the governor and General Assembly.

Gladden said she does not put much stock in Howard County's numbers because they were collected over a short time. But she added that she would "be concerned if the numbers are still the same in eight months."

Howard police are believed to be the first police agency in the state to report any traffic-stop statistics. Other area police agencies said they will report their findings on or shortly before the March 2003 deadline.

Sun staff writers Dennis O'Brien, Jackie Powder and Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.

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