Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh will recommend a new standard for police investigations Tuesday aimed at preventing the type of discriminatory profiling that activists have blamed for tensions between authorities and inner-city communities.
Frosh (D) has prepared a “guidance memorandum” stating that police activities must be neutral with respect to characteristics such as race, national origin and religion, except when the traits are legitimate components in crime investigations.
The document, scheduled for release during a news conference Tuesday morning, does not carry the weight of law or create enforceable rights, but it confirms that discriminatory profiling runs afoul of the U.S. and Maryland constitutions, according to the attorney general’s office. Local police departments would have to adopt the same guidelines in order to make it enforceable.
“We believe that this standard will provide an important measure of fairness and respect for members of all these groups, while improving the environment in which law enforcement conducts its work,” Frosh said in prepared remarks.
Several Maryland police officials and advocates for criminal-justice reform applauded the attorney general’s memo in prepared remarks for Tuesday’s news conference.
Baltimore’s interim police commissioner, Kevin Davis, described Frosh’s actions as an “important step forward,” adding that his agency will be committed to incorporating the standard “for the benefit of our officers and our community.”
Maryland NAACP President Gerald Stansbury said he was pleased that Frosh modeled his guidance on the federal guidelines, adding that “we know that good policing can be done without improper and discriminatory police tactics.”
Vince Canales, president of the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police, said Monday that discriminatory profiling is not a widespread issue in the state and that a task force appointed by the General Assembly to examine police practices in recent years has not identified any such problems.
“The guidelines that the attorney general put forward are consistent with what law enforcement across the state of Maryland have been adhering to already,” he said.
Frosh called discriminatory profiling a “crude and often unfair” practice that leads to mistrust and humiliation. He said it discourages cooperation with law enforcement, generates false leads and often makes police work more dangerous and confrontational.
But he promised not to hamstring authorities by condemning all use of distinguishing factors in investigations.
“Ending discriminatory profiling does not require law enforcement to ignore or reject bona fide leads and credible intelligence,” the memo states. “It does require police to rely only upon information that is trustworthy and is relevant to the investigation of a specific offense, organization, or crime scheme.”
The attorney general’s announcement comes nearly four months after riots erupted in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who sustained a severe spinal injury while in police custody.
That incident and numerous police killings of unarmed black men in recent years have prompting a growing chorus of calls for criminal-justice reforms that include things ranging from sentencing guidelines to police stops.
The Justice Department announced rules in December to curb racial profiling. They prohibit FBI agents from considering race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity when opening cases, in addition to banning racial profiling from national security cases for the first time.
The Justice Department said then that it hoped states and local agencies would adopt similar guidelines. Maryland becomes the first state to officially follow the federal standard, according to Frosh’s office.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the state legislature have enacted other changes to the criminal-justice system this year. They include a repeal of mandatory-minimum sentencing for certain offenses — Hogan allowed the bill to take effect without his signature — and laws that allow ex-offenders to shield court and police records in some cases, with the goal of helping them obtain jobs.
The governor vetoed two criminal-justice bills. One would have permitted ex-offenders to vote while on parole or probation; another would have decriminalized possession of drug paraphernalia such as pipes and bongs.
Frosh acknowledged in his prepared remarks that police have a difficult job that often requires them to make split-second decisions while in harm’s way.
“They encounter people when they are at their worst, yet we hope and expect that they operate at their best,” he said. “But despite all they do for us, all the good work that keeps our streets and neighborhoods safe, there is, today, too much mistrust of how they go about their work.”