Traf­fic stops tar­get blacks

Md. po­lice search­ing African-Amer­i­cans dis­pro­por­tion­ately

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Rec­tor

Black mo­torists in Mary­land are stopped and searched by po­lice at higher rates than their white coun­ter­parts, de­spite be­ing less likely in many ju­ris­dic­tions to be found with il­licit drugs or other con­tra­band, ac­cord­ing to statewide traf­fic stop data.

In Bal­ti­more County, black driv­ers were tar­geted in 50 per­cent of re­ported traf­fic stops by county po­lice and 53 per­cent of ve­hi­cle searches be­tween 2013 and this year, ac­cord­ing to data from the Mary­land Sta­tis­ti­cal Anal­y­sis Cen­ter, de­spite black peo­ple mak­ing up just 27 per­cent of the county’s pop­u­la­tion.

In Anne Arun­del County, black mo­torists ac­counted for 29 per­cent of stops and 35 per­cent of searches. Black peo­ple make up just 16 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in Arun­del.

In Howard County, black driv­ers were tar­geted in 37 per­cent of stops and 43 per­cent of searches, de­spite black peo­ple mak­ing up just 18 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. Af­ter be­ing pulled over in Howard for seat belt vi­o­la­tions — one of the most com­mon of­fenses tracked — black mo­torists were 87 per­cent more likely than white mo­torists to be searched.

While black mo­torists stopped in the

three sub­ur­ban coun­ties were more likely to be searched, they were less likely to be found car­ry­ing il­le­gal con­tra­band than white mo­torists. In Howard County, con­tra­band was found on 16 per­cent of black mo­torists who were searched, but 23 per­cent of white mo­torists.

The data, which po­lice are re­quired to re­port to the anal­y­sis cen­ter, re­flects a na­tional trend long de­nounced by civil rights lead­ers. It also mir­rors data found more re­cently in Bal­ti­more, where the De­part­ment of Jus­tice has slammed po­lice for dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices.

Ian Mance, a staff at­tor­ney at the North Carolina-based non­profit South­ern Coali­tion for So­cial Jus­tice — which ob­tained the Mary­land data through a pub­lic records re­quest and com­piled it in a new, search­able on­line data­base — said the data re­flects dis­crim­i­na­tion even when con­trol­ling for fac­tors such as the ini­tial of­fenses for which mo­torists were stopped.

“Race is the sin­gle big­gest pre­dic­tor of some­one be­ing treated more puni­tively,” Mance said. “Namely, black­ness is a pretty good indi­ca­tor of whether a search will oc­cur or not.”

The data has its lim­i­ta­tions. The South­ern Coali­tion for So­cial Jus­tice notes that “some datasets are in­com­plete or re­main un­re­ported.” And the state law that gov­erns the re­port­ing process does not re­quire po­lice to re­port all types of stops.

Among the types that do not have to be re­ported are those based on the use of tech­nolo­gies such as radar, which the ACLU of Mary­land has called “nec­es­sary to any anal­y­sis of racially bi­ased traf­fic stops.”

Crit­ics of such analy­ses have ques­tioned whether the data ac­tu­ally de­pict dis­crim­i­na­tion, given that each traf­fic stop is based on a range of fac­tors not eas­ily re­flected in spread­sheets and data sets.

The Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice of Crime Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, which re­leases an an­nual re­port on traf­fic stop data, has long de­ter­mined that “no de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sions” could be reached about the ef­fect of race or eth­nic­ity on traf­fic stops in Mary­land — in part be­cause of “omit­ted vari­ables” such as driv­ers’ past history of traf­fic vi­o­la­tions and their driv­ing be­hav­ior prior to be­ing stopped.

Lt. Ryan Frashure, a spokesman for the Anne Arun­del County Po­lice De­part­ment, said the de­part­ment “con­tin­u­ally pro­vides our of­fi­cers train­ing in fair and im­par­tial polic­ing” and has “strict poli­cies de­tail­ing bi­ased based pro­fil­ing.”

When­ever a search is con­ducted dur­ing a traf­fic stop in the county, he said, “it is a re­sult of prob­a­ble cause de­vel­oped by the of­fi­cer(s) or af­ter a driver’s con­sent if an of­fi­cer be­lieves some type of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity is afoot.”

“The safety of our cit­i­zens is paramount and con­duct­ing traf­fic en­force­ment is key in fight­ing and solv­ing crimes.”

In Har­ford County, black driv­ers were tar­geted in 26 per­cent of stops and 34 per­cent of searches. The pop­u­la­tion is 13.6 black.

Kyle An­der­son, a spokesman for the county sher­iff’s of­fice, said it is “com­mit­ted to un­bi­ased polic­ing and the eq­ui­table treat­ment of all per­sons and, as such, bi­ased based polic­ing is strictly for­bid­den and al­le­ga­tions of such mis­con­duct are im­me­di­ately in­ves­ti­gated.”

He said the sher­iff’s of­fice “uses a fo­cused, data-driven strat­egy to iden­tify high crash lo­ca­tions and ar­eas hav­ing a sub­stan­tial num­ber of crim­i­nal acts” in its traf­fic en­force­ment, and “strives to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that leads to fewer crashes, in­juries, deaths and crim­i­nal acts.”

Po­lice and sher­iff’s de­part­ments in Bal­ti­more, Car­roll and Howard coun­ties did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on Wed­nes­day, or said they needed more time to an­a­lyze the data.

Traf­fic stops by the Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment are not re­flected in the data. The city de­part­ment does not ap­pear to be in com­pli­ance with the state law that re­quires the data be re­ported. Bal­ti­more po­lice spokesman T.J. Smith said he could not im­me­di­ately an­swer ques­tions on the de­part­ment’s re­port­ing process.

City po­lice do not have com­put­ers in pa­trol cars and can’t use the Mary­land State Po­lice soft­ware pro­gram that al­lows of­fi­cers else­where to scan the bar­codes on the back of Mary­land driver’s li­censes and au­to­mat­i­cally input de­mo­graphic data from traf­fic stops into a traf­fic in­for­ma­tion ex­change plat­form.

In cor­re­spon­dence with the South­ern Coali­tion for So­cial Jus­tice, the de­part­ment cited the lack of com­put­ers and the fail­ure by its of­fi­cers to com­plete hand­writ­ten traf­fic stop forms as rea­sons its data was not avail­able. The de­part­ment said ob­tain­ing the tech­nol­ogy to al­low for proper re­port­ing was a top pri­or­ity.

Some data for the city is avail­able. The Civil Rights Divi­sion of the De­part­ment of Jus­tice found higher rates of stops and searches among black mo­torists in Bal­ti­more in its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the city de­part­ment. The Jus­tice De­part­ment cre­ated its own data­base of city traf­fic stop data from years of pa­per re­ports.

One Jus­tice De­part­ment find­ing: Be­tween 2010 and 2015, black mo­torists made up 82 per­cent of peo­ple stopped by po­lice for traf­fic vi­o­la­tions. Black res­i­dents make up 60 per­cent of the city’s driv­ing-age pop­u­la­tion. Black driv­ers in the city were 23 per­cent more likely to be searched than white mo­torists, the Jus­tice De­part­ment found, but less likely to have con­tra­band than other mo­torists.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment ul­ti­mately con­cluded that “there are strong in­di­ca­tions that BPD’s high rate of stop­ping AfricanAmer­i­can driv­ers is dis­crim­i­na­tory.”

The Jus­tice De­part­ment de­clined to com­ment Wed­nes­day on the data from the state’s other ju­ris­dic­tions.

The new data cap­tures 2,819,384 traf­fic stops logged in Mary­land be­tween Jan­uary 2013 and Oct. 2. The Mary­land State Po­lice were re­spon­si­ble for the largest por­tion of the stops, with more than 809,000.

Black driv­ers rep­re­sented 32 per­cent of the state po­lice stops, and 49 per­cent of state po­lice searches of mo­torists. Mary­land’s pop­u­la­tion is 30.5 per­cent black, ac­cord­ing to 2015 cen­sus fig­ures.

Forty-two per­cent of black mo­torists searched by state po­lice were found to have con­tra­band, com­pared to 53 per­cent of white mo­torists who were searched.

Black driv­ers were more likely to be searched by state po­lice re­gard­less of the ini­tial cause for the stop, ac­cord­ing to the data. For in­stance, black mo­torists were 111 per­cent more likely than white mo­torists to be searched af­ter be­ing pulled over for a seat belt vi­o­la­tion. Af­ter stop light or stop sign vi­o­la­tions, black mo­torists were 117 per­cent more likely to be searched than white mo­torists.

Greg Ship­ley, a spokesman for the Mary­land State Po­lice, ques­tioned the anal­y­sis by the South­ern Coali­tion for So­cial Jus­tice.

He said the data pub­lished by the coali­tion rep­re­sented “a sub­set” of avail­able data that did not cap­ture all of the agency’s traf­fic stops or dis­tin­guish be­tween the var­i­ous kinds of “searches” that troop­ers make, in­clud­ing plain view searches and searches sub­se­quent to an ar­rest on a war­rant.

Ship­ley said state troop­ers pa­trol high­ways and of­ten don’t know the race of the per­son they are pulling over.

His agency “has not, does not, nor will it ever con­done the use of a per­son’s race as a ba­sis for any type of po­lice ac­tion,” he said, and is “com­mit­ted to up­hold­ing rights of ev­ery cit­i­zen af­forded by the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and the laws of Mary­land.”

Ship­ley said the agency “has a strong, clear pol­icy pro­hibit­ing bi­ased polic­ing,” trains its troop­ers against bi­ased polic­ing through­out their ca­reers, and pro­vides ev­ery per­son pulled over with a pam­phlet that “pro­vides clear in­for­ma­tion on how to file a com­plaint or ex­press concerns about an en­counter with one of our troop­ers.”

The South­ern Coali­tion for So­cial Jus­tice fo­cused on Mary­land be­cause it has one of the strong­est re­quire­ments for the col­lec­tion of such data in the coun­try, Mance said.

The group’s new web­site al­lows driv­ers to look up their own traf­fic stops by time, date and lo­ca­tion, and to re­view the traf­fic stop history of the of­fi­cer who pulled them over by the of­fi­cer’s unique iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber.

Mance said the data could be used by de­fense at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing clients who be­lieve they were stopped with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“When cir­cum­stances arise where the of­fi­cial nar­ra­tive for why a per­son was stopped doesn’t re­ally square with the ev­i­dence, peo­ple will draw on the web­site to get a sense of what the of­fi­cer’s been do­ing over­all,” he said.

The data­base will also en­able po­lice chiefs to re­view traf­fic stop data and flag trou­bling trends, ei­ther through­out a de­part­ment or with a sin­gle of­fi­cer, Mance said.

“If an of­fi­cer is as­signed to a beat that’s 20 per­cent African-Amer­i­can, but the stop data shows that it’s 80 per­cent AfricanAmer­i­cans be­ing stopped, that will be ap­par­ent im­me­di­ately,” he said, “and pro­vide them with an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­vene and have a con­ver­sa­tion with the of­fi­cer.”

“Race is the sin­gle big­gest pre­dic­tor of some­one be­ing treated more puni­tively.”

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