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PC Makes Study of Racial Profiling DOA By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 27, 2002


TWO MONTHS AGO, researchers at the Public Service Research Institute completed a taxpayer-funded study into charges of rampant racial profiling among New Jersey state troopers. The investigation was intended to verify long-standing complaints against the state cops, namely, that they are latent bigots who target motorists for the "crime" of DWB driving while black.

Of the various racial-profiling studies to date, the institute used the most sophisticated data-gathering methods available. Its researchers set up special radar guns and cameras to clock the speed and snap the pictures of thousands of drivers along the turnpike, speeders and non-speeders alike. Then teams of analysts pored over the photographs to determine each driver’s race, without knowledge of the drivers’ speeds.

Little did researchers know that they soon would commit a "crime" of their own: discrediting an article of faith among racial agitators and the establishment press. The authors’ findings have been effectively rendered DOA censored and withheld from public view by the state of New Jersey, at the urging of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Here’s what the numbers, as provided by anonymous sources and reported in the New York Times, tell us: It’s true that in New Jersey police pull over black motorists at rates far greater than their proportion of the driving population. While blacks made up 16 percent of motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike, they accounted for 23 percent of the traffic stops. But the reason for the disparity seems to have far less to do with race than with driving habits along the New Jersey Turnpike, black drivers accounted for 25 percent of the speeders.

In the turnpike’s 65-mile-per-hour zone, where allegations of racial profiling are the most common, black motorists were almost twice as likely as their white counterparts to speed, which researchers defined as driving 15 mph or more above the posted limit. Some 2.7 percent of black drivers were found to crack the 80 mph mark, compared with 1.4 percent of whites.

Moreover, researchers found that the differences in driving behavior are even more pronounced at greater speeds (and almost nonexistent at slower ones). Among serious speed demons, drivers traveling at or above 90 mph, the racial disparity is apparently greater still. How much greater, though, remains a mystery, because officials from the New Jersey attorney general’s office, who commissioned the study, are treating it like a closely guarded state secret.

According to a Washington Post story, the state bureaucrats "expected that (the study) would show that troopers were stopping minority drivers disproportionately and without justification." When the study failed to conform to their political expectations, they decided to shelve it altogether.

The Department of Justice, which micromanages the New Jersey state police under a three-year-old racial-profiling consent decree, was eager to protect the rationale for its intervention. Just because John Ashcroft is attorney general, doesn’t mean that the days of political correctness are over in Janet Reno’s former fiefdom.

Citing supposed questions about the study’s methodology, the DOJ asked New Jersey officials to suspend the release of the report indefinitely. State officials, who were inexplicably disappointed to learn that their police officers might not all be racists after all, were happy to comply. So was Democratic governor James McGreevey, who defended the decision to deny his state’s taxpayers a look at the study that cost them $500,000.

Complaints about the report’s methodology appear to be little more than an excuse for political suppression. Mark Posner, a lawyer in the Justice Department's special litigation section, has raised concerns that windshield glare, weather, and camera placement could have undermined the results of the study. But the objection is specious. After all, if such factors adversely affected the findings, they would have affected all races equally, and thus had little bearing on the outcome.

Determining someone’s race from a snapshot is, admittedly, tricky business. For example, researchers classified only 4.8 percent of the motorists in their study as Hispanic, even though earlier data suggest that a more accurate number would be 14.2 percent. Because the combined total of white and Hispanic drivers is the same as in earlier studies, researchers most likely identified those who would consider themselves "Hispanic" as "white." It’s hard to see how that confusion could explain the vast discrepancy between black and white drivers, but it certainly confirms that racial bean-counting is an inexact science.

As it always has been. The survey that, until now, has long been considered authoritative a 1994 inquiry conducted by professors at Temple and Carnegie Mellon Universities used far cruder methodology. College students stood at the side of the road with binoculars, guessing at drivers’ races as they whizzed past them. By comparison, the new study, which the DOJ derides as flawed, uses the same cameras that in many states photograph speeders’ license plates and whose photos are accepted as legal evidence.

But the old study conformed to the political ideology of the day, while the new study appears to shatter it. No wonder one was embraced, and the other suppressed.


Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.


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