New Racial Profiling Laws in Maryland Amid Unrest

On Tuesday, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh issued a nine-page memorandum, “Ending Discriminatory Profiling in Maryland,” which contains new guidelines to restrict racial profiling by law enforcement. This move comes eight months after the Obama administration announced its own rules on racial profiling. Maryland is the first state to adopt such guidelines.

Of the 50 states, only 30 including Maryland currently ban or restrict racial profiling, a report by the NAACP revealed last year.

Larry Harmel, Executive Director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, saw the move as unnecessary due to the laws already in place and insisted that “[Police agencies] don’t tolerate racial profiling.”

“It’s been out there for years that police are not allowed to do that, and there’s a federal law against it,” he said, “so for [Frosh] to come out and have his own special thing for Maryland I guess it is good for him.”

Despite the already-existing laws, Frosh said in an interview there is more that needs to be done. “We need people to understand that racial profiling is illegal,” he said, “and it’s bad police work.”

Frosh, knowing his guidelines do not change any laws that are already in place, writes that the memorandum serves to “[make] clear that discriminatory profiling is inconsistent with our state and federal constitutions and antidiscrimination laws,” emphasizing that such actions carry legal consequences.

According to Frosh, who took office this past January, while Maryland state law already prohibits racial profiling, “the time has come for these principles to be transformed into uniform practice”; these new principles ban profiling not only based on race but also on ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual identity, gender identity and disability.

And despite Harmel’s thoughts, many others agree with Frosh’s actions and are confident this will be good for the whole state.

Toni Holness, who lobbies for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, applauded Frosh’s memorandum, describing it as “relevant to the broader movement for police accountability” and adding that such practices must be uniform throughout the state.

“The protections that you have should not vary from county to county,” she explained.

Delores Jones-Brown, founder of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and former New Jersey prosecutor, also praised Frosh’s move and said she hopes it changes the way some officers think.

“I think it’s the kind of thing that needs to happen on a state-by-state basis, because it at least creates the assumption, the impetus, for officers to start thinking differently about what they have been doing,” she said.

Many are also hoping it will have an impact in Baltimore, which has been at the forefront of racial bias by law enforcement issues since the murder of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in April by police officers. Since his death, as well as the riots that followed, tensions between the community and police have been at an all-time high, and trust between the two has been severely damaged as Frosh describes in his memorandum.

“Unfortunately, many today do not appreciate the brave and important work of police,” hiswriting states. “Frustration and misgivings have weakened the unspoken trust that once existed between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Correcting this will not happen overnight, but the end of discriminatory profiling a practice that has long molded the views of groups who have been singled out is essential to restoring that trust.”

The city’s interim police commissioner, Kevin Davis, expressed his intention to implement the practices outlined by Frosh, describing them as “[steps] that all law enforcement should follow.”

“I’m committed to making sure that the standards being released today are part of our practices for the benefit of our officers and our community,” he said.

Frosh hopes that his guidelines will serve as a positive step forward from a dismal past. In his memorandum, he writes, “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.”

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