The study of more than 6 million cases found that 46 percent of traffic stops were of Black or Hispanic motorists, far more than their share of the state’s population. Officials called the findings “deeply troubling.”
By S.P. Sullivan, nj.com, TNS
A team of independent researchers will monitor the traffic stops of New Jersey state troopers after a study of more than 6 million cases found “concerning racial and ethnic disparities” in who gets stopped by police on Garden State roadways, state authorities said Tuesday.
Some troopers will be directed to ease off enforcing some traffic laws and others will face audits of their stops under a pilot program aimed at curbing racial bias, New Jersey’s attorney general said.
The division of State Police has a long and troubled history of racial profiling complaints and spent more than a decade under federal monitoring, which ended in 2009, during which a host of reforms meant to eliminate bias and traffic stops were enacted.
But a preliminary study of a massive trove of enforcement data found disparities have only grown.
In 2009, 35 percent of the motorists troopers stopped by state troopers were Black or Hispanic. That figure has since risen to 46 percent, far more than their share of the population, the data shows.
The study, led by Matthew B. Ross at Northeastern University, examined data from 6,177,109 traffic stops between January 2009 and June 2021.
It found Black and Hispanic motorists were more likely to be searched than their white counterparts, even though those searches were less likely to yield evidence. They were also more likely to be asked to step out of the vehicle, to be arrested or to face the use of force, the data shows.
State Attorney General Matthew Platkin on Tuesday called the findings “deeply troubling.”
“It is unacceptable for the actions of law enforcement to have a disparate impact on communities of color. All New Jersey residents and visitors to this great state deserve to be treated equally and fairly – especially by people in positions of authority sworn to serve the public,” Platkin said.
“Whether the result of implicit bias, systemic faults in policies, or something more intentional, whatever the root cause of these disparities, I am committed to righting these wrongs.”
The findings come at a time New Jersey law enforcement leaders are seeking to improve relations between police and the public they serve. The State Police has struggled in recent years to diversify its ranks and faces a number of lawsuits from women and minority troopers.
Maj. Brian Polite, one of the division’s highest-ranking Black troopers, filed suit in April alleging widespread racial discrimination.
New Jersey civil rights advocates said the findings simply gave hard numbers to a reality they’ve long known.
“I’m not surprised at all by the data, nor is any Black person in the state of New Jersey surprised by the data,” said the Rev. Charles Boyer, the head of the group Salvation and Social Justice.
Boyer said the figures showed it was time to “really look at different models” that don’t involve police for traffic enforcement, pointing to a growing movement among criminal justice reform advocates around the country.
In a statement, State Police head Col. Patrick Callahan said his troopers “embrace the scrutiny and oversight that comes with serving our communities.”
“Any steps we take to remove barriers to police accountability and transparency can only serve to strengthen the relationships we have fostered in the communities we have taken an oath to serve and protect,” Callahan said.
Under the pilot program, some troopers will be directed to ease off enforcement of certain “minor infractions” not associated with crashes — such as a broken tail light or expired registration — and instead “focus all enforcement efforts on the violations most likely to lead to fatal and serious motor vehicle crashes.”
Other troopers will face audits of their stops to evaluate how they handle the public.
Ross, the Northeastern professor, will oversee the pilot study. He will be joined by CarlyWill Sloan, a professor at West Point, and Kenneth Barone, a project manager with the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at the University of Connecticut.
Platkin said Tuesday the results of the study, which is ongoing, would be made public.
Boyer praised authorities for disclosing the data, but challenged them to release similar figures for the rest of the state’s police forces.
“I’d put money on it that this kind of data would be even more egregious if you drilled down to other local police departments in the state,” he said.
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