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Advocates, lawmakers seek more robust data on Md. police actions

Bryan P. Sears//September 22, 2015

Advocates, lawmakers seek more robust data on Md. police actions

By Bryan P. Sears

//September 22, 2015

ANNAPOLIS — Advocates and lawmakers Tuesday called for more robust data collection and reporting when it comes to arrests, traffic stops and other police interactions with the community.

“The biggest hole in the data is that it is not disaggregated,” said Toni Holness, a public policy associate with ACLU Maryland. “It’s not possible to identify patterns of discrimination in local jurisdictions using aggregate data.”

Data collected by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention show that blacks and Hispanics combined represent 47 percent of all police traffic stops — the same percentage as white drivers even though those two groups make up smaller percentages of the overall state population.

Additionally, blacks make up more than two-thirds of all incidents in which police officers used a Taser or other type of stun gun device.

In both cases, statisticians from the agency said five of the state’s jurisdictions — Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties — account for about two-thirds of all the cases.

Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties, said the additional data could help guide the work group as it begins to finalize its report.

“The data is great but you need more,” Peña-Melnyk said.  “The devil is in the details. We just need those details to see if there is a problem, first of all, and if there is where is it coming from, what jurisdiction, what category, what ethnicity, under what circumstances, and I feel we definitely need a lot more data.”

Agency statisticians told the panel that in most cases jurisdictional and other detailed data exists but is not included in reports because it was not required.

Peña-Melnyk said that she might seek changes to require the additional data for future annual reports.

The legislative panel was formed in May by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to look at public safety and policing practices in the wake of legislation introduced earlier this year after the death of Freddie Gray, a west Baltimore man who died from injuries suffered while in police custody. The panel has two more meetings planned before it must deliver recommendations to the House and Senate that could lead to legislation for the 2016 session.

Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City and co-chairman of the panel, said the group will likely make recommendations on issues ranging from police recruitment and hiring practices, diversity, the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, and ongoing evaluations for current police officers, including mental health examinations.

The work group is one of three taking up police and criminal justice issues before the General Assembly convenes in January. Other panels are looking at body cameras or at how to lower the rates of incarceration in the state.

Anderson that despite the limitations some see in the data, many of the numbers track with what he believes is an overall concern with the lack of diversity hiring in police departments around the state. As a result of those hiring practices, law enforcement agencies generally do not resemble the racial makeup of the communities they patrol.

In Baltimore City, blacks make up 44 percent of the police force in a jurisdiction where about 63 percent of the total population is black.

“It appears to result in departments with larger numbers of white officers making a disproportionate number of arrests of African-American residents,” Anderson said. “I’m pretty sure it’s a statewide problem.”

Del. Brett R. Wilson, R-Washington County, said jurisdictional data similar to what was used on a state heroin task force could help identify problem areas around the state.

“You could see the hot spots,” Wilson said. “You could see trends. You could see over time how one area could be improving. You could see an overview of the entire state. This doesn’t do that. This just says ‘statewide here’s the problem, here are the total numbers.’ It doesn’t give us enough to identify if this, whatever it is, is a statewide issue or if it really is localized to a few jurisdictions and we should be focusing our attention on that.”

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