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Maryland State Police Still Targeting Black Motorists, According to ACLU


December 1996

According to the ACLU, the Maryland State Police continue to conduct a grossly disproportionate number of drug searches in cars driven by black motorists two years after agreeing to stop doing so (Paul W. Valentine, "Md. State Police Still Target Black Motorists, ACLU Says," Washington Post, November 15, 1996, p. A1).

On November 14, the ACLU filed a motion in Federal Court in Baltimore, asking for a $250,000 contempt-of-court fine against the Maryland State Police for violating a 1994 settlement agreement to make drug searches without regard to race. The ACLU cited the police agency's reports showing 73% (600 of the 823) of the motorists stopped on Interstate 95 between suburban Baltimore and Delaware since January 1995 were black. An ACLU survey last summer found that only 17% of the drivers on that 44-mile segment of Interstate 95 are black. "The evidence is disturbing and undeniable," said Susan Goering, an executive with ACLU. Goering said that police found nothing in 70% of those drug searches.

The agreement stems from a 1992 lawsuit on behalf of an African-American family stopped and searched by Maryland State Police officers as they were returning from a funeral in Chicago. Evidence in that case included a state police memorandum in which black males and black females were set forth as part of a drug trafficker profile. In that agreement, the Maryland State Police paid the family $50,000 and agreed to provide records of future drug stops and searches, including the race of the driver and the reason for the search, to the ACLU ("Maryland Police Agree to End Racial Drug Courier Profile," NewsBriefs, February 1995, p. 11).

Maryland State Police deny using racial profiles in their drug searches. "We're totally in compliance with the terms of the settlement," said Betty A. Sconion, an assistant attorney general representing the police agency. Troopers claim that there is a practical reason for the disproportionate searches: the Interstate 95 corridor is a popular route for ferrying drugs between cities with large minority populations, such as Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta and Miami. According to police, the couriers recruited to ferry the drugs are often from the communities they deliver drugs to. State police said troopers are trained to make searches based on signs of possible drug-related activity, such as rental cars, pagers, nervousness or inconsistent information from the vehicle's occupants.

In the past, Maryland state police have focused much of their drug interdiction activity on Interstate 95 corridor, including a six-member Special Traffic Interdiction Force (STIF) that concentrated on drug stops. But officials cut the all-white force in June, conceding that they were unhappy with reports that STIF was continuing to make stops involving a high rate of black motorists.