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Baltimore County forms work group to review racial disparities in traffic stops

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Police Chief Melissa Hyatt are concerned about state traffic stop data that shows minority motorists are more likely to be pulled over and more likely to be cited than white motorists.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Police Chief Melissa Hyatt are concerned about state traffic stop data that shows minority motorists are more likely to be pulled over and more likely to be cited than white motorists. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

The majority of traffic stops in Baltimore County last year involved a black driver, according to statewide traffic stop data, even though black residents make up less than a third of the county’s population, a disparity county officials plan to review.

African Americans are 30% of Baltimore County’s population, but were involved in nearly 57% of all vehicle stops in 2018, according to data released Friday. And minority drivers were more likely to receive a citation after being stopped than white drivers.

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Police conducted 278,544 traffic stops in the county last year. Hispanic drivers were cited nearly 45% of the time they were stopped, while black drivers were cited nearly 43% of the time they were stopped. White motorists were cited 32% of the time they were stopped.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. called the traffic stop data concerning Friday and issued an executive order to form a work group to study the problem.

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The work group will review the county’s police data, rules regarding police stops and the training and supervision officers receive. The team also will work with police to figure out how their actions may be influencing the data.

Olszewski and fellow Democratic Councilman Julian Jones Jr. said the data “doesn’t necessarily indicate bias,” but does raise questions.

“Oftentimes there can be biases without any malice and people don’t know it,” said Jones, of Woodstock and the only black member of the county council. “They don’t do it intentionally, and they don’t know it until we take this look.”

Baltimore County Del. Charles Sydnor said this issue caught his attention after “a number of people” told him about their experiences with police stops in the area. The Democrat called last year’s numbers startling. He recalled how similar findings were released statewide years ago.

Historically, black motorists in Maryland have been stopped and searched by police at higher rates than their white counterparts, but data show they were less likely to be found with illegal contraband than white motorists. In Baltimore County, black drivers were targeted in 50% of reported traffic stops by county police and 53% of vehicle searches between 2013 and 2016, state data show.

The work group will be chaired by Troy Williams, who was hired as the county’s first chief diversity officer in August. Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said the work group will provide “another avenue for increased communication among all of us.” Hyatt is in the process of hiring a diversity officer for the police department.

“This work group aims to make a great police department even better. Together, we can foster trust between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to protect and serve,” Olszewski said.

Hyatt, Jones and Sydnor will be members of the work group. They will be joined by State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, residents, academics and representatives from the Baltimore County NAACP, police organizations and other groups.

The county will announce dates and times for two public input sessions for the work group soon. The work group will issue a draft report and recommendations by July, with public comment to follow. Olszewski said the final report will be issued no later than August 2020.

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