State police to distribute brochures

Pamphlets explaining complaint process given with tickets to drivers

Part of profiling settlement

Troopers also have begun recording traffic stops

November 07, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Maryland State Police will begin distributing brochures today that explain how to file complaints against the department, satisfying a key requirement of its racial-profiling settlement with African-American motorists.

Distribution of the pamphlets represents the most visible change in state police procedures since the state signed a consent decree six months ago to end an 11-year legal battle. Troopers will hand them out to all motorists who receive traffic tickets and warnings.

"The primary aim in having this brochure is to create a complaint process that is accessible and clear to everyone," said Deborah A. Jeon, one of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland lawyers who helped negotiate the settlement.

The brochure was one of several steps outlined in the consent decree, which ended the legal dispute that began in 1992, when an African-American lawyer was stopped by a trooper in Cumberland and his car searched for drugs.

"When we were investigating the case, we found there was a lot of misinformation about the state police complaint process, even within the department," Jeon said.

As part of the settlement, the department has also hired retired Capt. Dennis P. Murphy as a civilian consent decree program manager. Eli Silverman, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College in New York, has been hired as the department's consultant on racial-profiling issues.

State police have not established a citizen-police advisory committee with members of the state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, though agency officials said they are just weeks from the first meeting.

"The department has taken this very seriously and moved quickly to meet our responsibilities," said Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman. "All the elements have been addressed - some to completion and some close to completion."

Troopers had begun videotaping some traffic stops, obtaining written consent to search vehicles without probable cause, and collecting data about the race and gender of drivers they stop when not using radar, Shipley said.

About 145 state police patrol cars assigned to highway barracks are equipped with video cameras to tape traffic stops. The consent decree requires state police to install more video cameras as their budget allows.

The department is hoping to receive a $250,000 federal grant to cover the expense of the cameras, which cost about $55,000 to $65,000 each, said Murphy.

"I think troopers have found the cameras are their friends," he said. "They document that they are doing things right."

The original lawsuit filed against state police stemmed from a trooper's stop and search of Robert L. Wilkins, who claimed he was singled out because he was black.

In 1995, as part of the settlement of that suit with Wilkins, Maryland State Police became the first major police department in the nation forced to collect data on traffic stops. After the data were reviewed in 1997, a federal judge found a "pattern and practice of discrimination." The ACLU filed another lawsuit in 1998 on behalf of 14 minority plaintiffs and more than 125 people alleging they were searched because of their race.

Although some union officials initially were concerned that the settlement would require troopers to explain the brochures during highway stops - exposing the officers to a greater risk of being hit alongside the road - police officials said the troopers can simply hand them to motorists with tickets and warnings.

"I can't say anyone is happy about giving out another piece of paper," Murphy said. "But I believe they feel good about what it says."

The department is also looking at having the brochures translated into Spanish.

Superintendent Edward T. Norris, who helped orchestrate the Ehrlich administration's approval of the settlement, negotiated to include more general information in the brochures.

As a result, the pamphlets include nearly as much information about the department and things such as the Child Amber Alert system and tips on spotting possible terrorism activity, as it does about racial profiling.

"I think the other information included about traffic stops ... is very informative," Jeon said.

About 250,000 pamphlets have been printed, and orders for more will be placed as needed. "We don't run out of tickets," Shipley said. "We probably won't run out of brochures."

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