NAACP seeks inquiry into traffic stops

Local police release numbers in compliance with racial-profiling law

`This is just raw data'

Black drivers arrested twice as often as whites in Annapolis in early '02

Anne Arundel

July 24, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Traffic-stop data released recently by the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County police departments have renewed a discussion about racial profiling in the community.

Figures for early 2002 show that while traffic stops roughly paralleled the demographics of the city and county, black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be arrested during a stop by Annapolis police.

The county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People plans to ask the Annapolis Human Relations Commission to examine the arrest data for evidence of racial profiling, said Carl O. Snowden, an NAACP member and assistant to County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"The whole purpose of the data collection is to see if there is a problem," Snowden said. "And when there is an apparent disparity, which there is here, we need to look behind the numbers."

Annapolis police Lt. Gregory Imhof said the number of arrests - 25 of 255 white drivers who were stopped during the first three months versus 32 of 151 black drivers who were pulled over - have a simple explanation.

"The officer had no choice but to make an arrest," he said. A suspended driver's license or outstanding warrant was the reason for an arrest about 60 percent of the time with black drivers, he said.

Local police departments began gathering traffic stop data in January to comply with a state law banning racial profiling.

The legislation grew out of a lawsuit alleging that Maryland State Police used race when deciding whether to search vehicles on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore. Part of the settlement of the suit has required troopers in the Harford County barracks to keep traffic-stop data since 1995.

The state police will soon release first-quarter data for its barracks, a spokesman there said yesterday. City and county police released their first round of statistics last week.

The county numbers show that of 12,238 drivers pulled over between January and April, 75.2 percent were white, 19.5 percent were black, 2.2 percent were Hispanic and 1.8 percent were Asian. Drivers of other races made up the remaining 1.3 percent.

According to the 2000 Census, Anne Arundel County was 81.2 percent white, 13.6 percent black, 2.6 percent Hispanic and 2.3 percent Asian.

The county figures also show that about 6 percent of the 9,197 white drivers pulled over were arrested while about 7 percent of the 2,381 black drivers pulled over were arrested.

Officer Charles Ravenell, a county police spokesman, said the department had no expectation about the traffic-stop data. "It's just the first quarter we've released," he said. "We have to keep note of that."

Snowden said he saw no potential profiling problems with the county data. But in Howard County, where 8 percent of black drivers stopped were arrested and 5 percent of the white drivers stopped were arrested, some black leaders think the police could be profiling.

Of the 454 traffic stops by Annapolis police from January to March, 33 percent of the drivers were black, 56 percent white, 1 percent Asian, 6 percent Hispanic and 3 percent another race.

Those numbers basically match the city's demographics: 31 percent black, 63 percent white, 2 percent Asian and 4 percent Hispanic or another race, according to the 2000 census.

But while about 10 percent of white drivers who were stopped were arrested, 21 percent of black drivers were, the figures show.

"It's too early to jump to conclusions about any of the data," Snowden said. "But it's not too early to look at what these numbers might suggest and to start monitoring the situation."

Commission Chairman Michael J. Keller said the NAACP has not contacted him, but "this is most certainly an issue we will take up."

"We are especially interested in unfair practices and potential discrimination," he said, adding that the data will likely be discussed at the commission's next meeting in September.

City spokeswoman Jan Hardesty said "it would be inappropriate for the Human Relations Commission to try to interpret the data."

"This is just raw data, and we're not even going to try to analyze it," Hardesty said. "We've been given no directions other than to forward the data." Annapolis, along with all other police departments in the state, must submit 2002 traffic-stop data to the Maryland Justice Analysis Center at the University of Maryland, College Park by March.

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