Pubdate: Thu, 11 Jan 2001
Source: Home News Tribune (NJ)
Copyright: 2001 Home News Tribune
Contact:  35 Kennedy Blvd. East Brunswick, NJ 08816
Author: Michael Symons, Gannett State Bureau


TRENTON -- The percentage of New Jersey Turnpike traffic stops involving 
minority drivers has increased, but state officials say they are making 
progress toward instituting court-compelled plans to end racial profiling 
by the New Jersey State Police.

According to data filed yesterday in U.S. District Court by the state 
Office of the Attorney General, minority drivers made up 41.4 percent of 
all state police traffic stops on the New Jersey Turnpike from May to 
October 2000, including nearly half of those south of Interchange 7A.

Minorities accounted for 38.3 percent of the traffic stops on the Turnpike 
in the first four months of the year. A traffic census done by a Maryland 
institute for the state found 37.6 percent of turnpike drivers surveyed 
were minorities.

The report and reforms are part of an agreement in which the state is 
implementing changes to avoid a federal lawsuit alleging troopers targeted 
minority drivers for traffic stops as part of a drug-interdiction program. 
State officials have acknowledged that racial profiles were used.

Attorney General John Farmer Jr. said it is premature to say what the 
increase means, but he said reforms under way will allow officials to draw 
such conclusions in the future.

"I can't tell you, based on numbers, whether there's a problem or whether 
there isn't," Farmer said. "These numbers clearly don't dispel prior 
concerns, I guess is the best way of putting it, but they don't cause me to 
draw an inference one way or the other."

In a press conference, state officials repeatedly touted one reform 
scheduled to begin in April, when a new computer-management program will 
allow state police to quickly analyze raw data to compare stop, search and 
arrests patterns of individual troopers.

"No other law-enforcement agency in the world is gathering this kind of 
data at this time," said Martin Cronin, director of the Office of State 
Police Affairs in the Attorney General's Office. "The world is looking to 
us for guidance in analyzing this data as it affects the state police and 
the public that it serves."

Data were presented yesterday for more than 195,000 traffic stops and more 
than 10,000 criminal arrests by all state troopers. People who aren't white 
were pulled over in 28 percent of all traffic stops, and they accounted for 
53 percent of all arrests.

The Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers' 
Council of New Jersey, said the council agreed more time was needed to 
analyze what the data means.

"This is going to be a difficult process, a long process," Jackson said. 
"Rather than jumping to conclusions, we're willing to be patient, but we 
would like to see some signs of progress along the way."

Moorestown-based civil-rights attorney William Buckman, who filed the first 
lawsuit in which a judge ruled that troopers used racial profiling to 
decide which drivers to pull over, said the state still refuses to 
seriously address the traffic-stop disparity.

"To a great extent, they're still stressing spin-control over substance," 
Buckman said. "It's always been about the stop numbers -- what minorities 
are suffering and how minorities are treated on our highways."

Buckman said one piece of important data is still missing from the state's 
reports: the percentage of searches involving minorities. Farmer said that 
data is now collected, and it will be included in future reports.

The president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, Edward Lennon, 
suggested the state perform a "speed monitoring" audit to measure the 
demographics of drivers who are violating the law. A traffic census done 
for the Office of the Public Defender in conjunction with the 
racial-profiling issue found nearly all drivers on the turnpike speed.

"The report itself is very large, and I don't think anyone really knows how 
to interpret the numbers given. ... Anyone who believes troopers are 
stopping motorists by race (is) not thinking realisticly," Lennon said.

The state reached a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department in 
December 1999, following federal intervention after a shooting of unarmed 
black motorists by troopers in April 1998.

Under the decree, the state promised to institute a number of policy and 
operational reforms in exchange for the federal government's agreement not 
to pursue a civil-rights lawsuit against the State Police.

The state police must make 96 policy changes and 82 operational changes. An 
independent monitor, in a separate report filed yesterday in U.S. District 
Court in Trenton, found the state has met 92 percent of the policy 
requirements and 53 percent of the operational ones.
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