More than half of all drivers pulled over, searched, cited and arrested last year by Baltimore County police were Black, despite efforts to examine racial disparities in traffic stops in a county where Black residents make up less than a third of the population.
Police pulled over vehicles 31,000 times last year during the coronavirus pandemic — a substantial decrease from nearly 83,000 traffic stops in 2019. Black people represent 30% of Baltimore County’s population, according to census estimates, but were involved in 58% of all vehicle stops in 2020.
White drivers, who make up about 60% of the county’s population, accounted for just over 31% of traffic stops last year, according to the most recent update to the county’s traffic stop data dashboard, recently presented to the county’s Equitable Policing Advisory Group. Hispanic drivers account for 6% of the county population and constituted 5% of traffic stops.
The racial disparity in traffic stops persisted last year despite the formation of the work group by Democratic County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. to assess police traffic stop practices and issue recommendations.
In a statement, Olszewski said he hoped the data would “inform the ongoing work” of the advisory group to “support sustained progress on this important issue.”
The group, whose focus has now expanded to all issues of policing equity, was launched in late 2019 after the prior year’s data showed 57% of Baltimore County traffic stops involved Black drivers. In 2019, Black motorists were 55% of all stops, according to county data.
The Olszewski administration stopped short of answering what to make of the widened racial disparity in traffic stops since then.
Minority drivers were also cited and arrested more often than white motorists last year. Black drivers who were pulled over were issued a citation 27% of the time while 34% of Hispanic drivers stopped were cited, most often for registration and failure to follow traffic laws. Among white drivers who were stopped, 23% were cited.
In 2019, 60% of all citations and 57% of arrests involved Black drivers, according to county data. Statistics show that minority drivers made up two-thirds of traffic arrests last year: Black drivers accounted for 61% of the total 571 arrests, while white drivers were 31% of arrests and Hispanic drivers 5%.
Expired registration, reckless driving and operating improper equipment were the most likely reasons Black drivers were arrested last year. Among Hispanic motorists, a quarter of arrests were because of “moving violations” and “other stops,” according to the county dashboard. White drivers who were arrested were mostly booked for reckless driving.
“I think it’s implicit bias — there’s gotta be some bias in this,” said former Baltimore County NAACP President Tony Fugett, who sits on the Equitable Policing Advisory Group.
“Or you just gotta say African Americans are disproportionately bad drivers, don’t take care of their cars, have registration issues — it’s one or the other, I guess,” he said.
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 constituted 50% of reported traffic stops by county police and 53% of vehicle searches between 2013 and 2016, state data show.
Traffic stop data does not include drivers who are pulled over from license reader or radar technology, nor stops at police checkpoints or during accidents.
In a draft report released in December, the traffic stop work group recommended that the police department examine how officers conduct traffic stops for defective vehicle equipment to route out any discriminatory practices.
A final report that was expected to be released early this year is still in the works.
What next steps might be taken remain unclear, Fugett said. With the new, broader scope of the panel, he said the group’s original task was put on the back burner.
“I think it would be unfair to lay it on our shoulders,” Fugett said of the advisory group. “I think that now that it’s out there … I’m hoping and praying that there will be progress.”