- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2000

Thinking of trying to get out of a traffic ticket? Well, don't try it in New Jersey unless you want to sit with the judge and watch the traffic stop on candid camera.

The New Jersey state police have now been exonerated in 40 cases of being accused of racism by videos they filmed of routine traffic stops. Many hope these and future cases will restore a reputation killed after a traffic stop went bad nearly two years ago.

That traffic stop drew national scorn on the state police because it revealed a practice now known as "racial profiling." The initial incident involved two white state troopers who shot and wounded four black motorists in a minivan. Statistics later proved some troopers racially profiled motorists to screen for likely lawbreakers. Civil rights advocates cried fowl and eventually the governor, attorney general and most of the state police's top brass promised to end racial profiling.

However, the national media doesn't seem to have an interest in reporting the good police do. For example, recently the Star Ledger, the New Jersey paper that broke the story, was honored for covering this issue by the National Press Foundation the paper's editor James P. Willse was named Editor of the Year. The Star Ledger has following the issue with tenacity. However, in handing out the award the foundation recapped everything the police did wrong, but neglected to mention that some complaints of racism are false 40 of them were disproved on tape. The room was filled with journalists who will potentially cover this issue and who need to hear the whole story.

Racial politics is a particularly dirty game, which is why cameras could prove to be the ultimate polish for a tarnished image. State Police Superintendent Col. Carson J. Dunbar Jr. plans to put cameras in all squad cars and microphones on all state troopers. The state police had wanted cameras in the cars for years, but at $3,500 a pop equipping all 961 patrol cars was too expensive. Now 745 patrol cars have cameras. The remaining cars are old and will be fitted with the new equipment when they are upgraded. Once in place the cameras will give judges and the public an objective view of each traffic stop, regardless of media coverage.

So far the cameras are working well. Out of the 40 complaints the state police have received involving taped stops 38 were resolved by simply showing the tapes. And two indictments for falsely accusing the police were handed down. In one case, Thomas J. Golden, of Pennsylvania was handed a fourth degree indictment for "Falsely Incriminating Another." Mr. Golden claimed to be the victim of reverse racial profiling when Sgt. L. Gregan threatened him, used racial slurs and pinned his hand against the car door with a holstered pistol, according to the indictment filed in Middlesex County. The video tape shows that never happened, so Mr. Golden could now face up to 18-months in jail and a $10,000 fine, if convicted.

The cameras are effective because they are a simple idea. They are mounted on the dash of the patrol car and each trooper wears a microphone, so all conversations as well as actions are recorded. The officers never have access to the tapes, because they are located in a locked metal box in the car's trunk. Periodically, the tapes are removed and stored.

"It's a real win-win situation," says Roger Schatzkin, spokesman for New Jersey's attorney general's office. "It's protection for the public and it is protection for the police."

Clearly, it is time to honor the New Jersey State Police for acting professionally and recognize that in most cases those being stopped by the police are not victims.

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