Friday, March 22, 2002

The Justice Department has blocked the release of a study of suspected racial profiling after the survey concluded that black drivers speed more often than others.

The department had asked New Jersey officials to determine whether black speeders were being stopped more often as part of a racial-profiling investigation but has put the scheduled January release on hold, questioning how researchers reached their conclusions.

Department officials have told authorities in New Jersey, according to sources close to the study, that there were numerous unanswered questions concerning the soundness of the methods used by researchers in the study, “particularly in an issue as important as racial profiling.”

The study was done by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation of Beltsville.

Mark Posner, a Justice Department lawyer who asked that the findings be withheld, said he was concerned that the results had been skewed by factors such as weather, camera placement and glare on windshields.

“Based on the questions we have identified, it may well be that the results reported in the report are wrong or unreliable,” Mr. Posner said in a letter to New Jersey officials.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, a longtime opponent of racial profiling, called for a comprehensive study of it among law-enforcement agencies shortly after his confirmation.

He also announced his support last year of Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s advocacy of the Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act, which three previous Congresses had declined to enact.

After a racially charged confirmation hearing, Mr. Ashcroft also promised the Congressional Black Caucus that he would vigorously attack racial profiling.

Two years ago, the Justice Department forced officials in New Jersey to adopt new policies aimed at discouraging suspected racial profiling by state troopers and ordered a comprehensive study of the driving habits of motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Federal officials wanted to know whether black and Hispanic drivers were being stopped for speeding at a higher rate than white motorists and whether appreciable differences between the groups could be attributed to a difference in driving behavior.

The unpublished study, according to sources familiar with its content, found that black motorists exceeded the speed limit more often than either whites or Hispanics.

New Jersey State Police have been accused for more than a decade of racial profiling, particularly along the New Jersey Turnpike.

In December 1999, state officials entered into an agreement with the Justice Department to remedy the problem.

The Pacific Institute study, which used radar guns and high-speed photography to help identify the race of drivers and targeted only those who exceeded the speed limit by more than 15 miles per hour, was part of the state’s response to the Justice Department agreement.

More than 38,500 drivers were evaluated, the sources said. Among the drivers specifically identified by race, the cameras more often caught black motorists speeding.

The study, first reported by the New York Times, said black motorists were nearly twice as likely to speed as whites or Hispanics when the speed limit was posted at 65 miles per hour.

It said that when the speed of the drivers was recorded at more than 90 miles per hour, the occurrence of black drivers versus others was even higher.

According to the study, blacks made up 16 percent of the drivers on the turnpike and 25 percent of the speeders in the 65-mph zones, where complaints of racial profiling have been most common.

Robert B. Voas, one of the researchers who conducted the study, told The Washington Times yesterday that he is “quite confident” in its conclusions and predicted that it would be validated by any competent scientific review.

Mr. Voas, a Pacific Institute senior scientist, said he was precluded by the Attorney General’s Office in New Jersey, which contracted for the study, from discussing its specific findings but said the lengthy research project was not intended to be a review of racial profiling.

“We looked solely at numbers, and that’s what the report shows,” he said. “We’re quite confident in its validity.”

Although the study has not been released, some of its contents have been leaked to New Jersey state troopers, who have long denied engaging in racial profiling.

“People who are being stopped are being stopped because of the way they’re operating their vehicles, not because of their race,” David Jones, vice president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, said of the study.

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