Maryland on Tuesday took a significant step to curb racial profiling and other discriminatory policing tactics, releasing broad new rules that aim to limit law enforcement officers from targeting individuals based on race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics.
The state’s Attorney General Brian Frosh issued a nine-page memorandum to police departments statewide outlining the new guidelines, entitled Ending Discriminatory Profiling in Maryland, citing recent unrest in Baltimore and other cities around the country over police killings of unarmed minorities.
“Experience has taught us that improper profiling by police exacts a terrible cost, discouraging cooperation by law-abiding citizens, generating bogus leads that turn attention away from bona fide criminal conduct, and eroding community trust,” Frosh wrote in the memorandum.
The state’s policies previously banned racial and ethnic profiling during traffic stops. Frosh’s new guidelines expand on those policies by prohibiting officers from using race or ethnicity in making police decisions, and expand the protections to include routine operations and investigations as well.
The rules also include identity, national origin, disability, and religion as traits that may not be profiled, along with race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
Officers may only consider those characteristics if there is “credible information” that they are “directly relevant” to an investigation.
The rules do not create new laws. Individual police departments would have to formally adopt the guidelines to make them enforceable. But Frosh’s office said the memorandum “makes clear that discriminatory profiling is inconsistent with our state and federal constitutions and antidiscrimination laws.” And interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said all departments should follow the rules, which he called “an important step forward.”
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The Maryland NAACP and ACLU also voiced approval of the guidelines.
“African-American communities have been victims of profiling for far too long, and this is another step that we can build on to ending the practice in Maryland because we know that good policing can be done without improper and discriminatory police tactics,” state NAACP president Gerald Stansbury said on Tuesday.
And ACLU-MD public policy associate Toni Holness said the guidelines were “relevant to the broader movement for police accountability,” and should be adopted uniformly throughout the state. “The protections that you have should not vary from county to county.”
Frosh’s guidelines reflect the growing demand for accountability and justice in police shootings. In Maryland, the in-custody death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray—whose spine was severed during an arrest—also highlighted Baltimore’s specific legacy of racial segregation and discrimination.
But as an investigation by Catherine Rentz of the Baltimore Sun shows, the rules—if adopted by police departments—may be difficult to enforce, as policy cannot bridge the gap of racial bias.
According to Rentz’s analysis of city data, black residents make up 64 percent of Baltimore’s population but accounted for 93 percent of its loitering arrests and 84 percent of its trespassing arrests in 2014—years after law enforcement vowed to end controversial zero-tolerance policies that civil rights advocates said unfairly targeted black communities.
Nonetheless, as the Sun writes in an op-ed on Frosh’s rules, “the main thrust of the guidelines focuses on cases when police are operating without any information other than their observations.”
“There is no place for racial profiling in Maryland law enforcement,” the Sun writes. “His office needs to do all the training, monitoring and analysis it can to make sure it doesn’t occur. But the rest of us need to remember that eliminating conscious bias is only the first step.”
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