- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Whatever was the Justice Department thinking? Having successfully compelled New Jersey to set new guidelines intended to eliminate "racial profiling" by state troopers along the Garden State's highways, it then ordered up a study of the speeding habits of New Jersey motorists. Such carelessness. After all, science can be so unpredictable. Guess it never occurred to anyone at Justice that a comprehensive analysis of the facts might actually provide some evidence that New Jersey troopers are not quite the Simon Legrees in squad cars their critics say they are.

But that's what the new study shows. Or is said to show, anyhow. It's hard to know for sure because the Justice Department, having discovered this big political boo-boo in the ream of scientific data it asked for, has decided to bury the report as in cover it up.

Why? It all goes back to the fact that before we had Osama bin Laden, we had New Jersey State Troopers, widely reviled for stopping black motorists at a much higher rate than other motorists, particularly along the New Jersey Turnpike. Of course, troopers do stop black motorists at a much higher rate than white motorists for a variety of explanations. One reason, the new study tells us, is that blacks exceed the speed limit at a much higher rate than white motorists. "In the southern segment of the turnpike, where the speed limit is 65 mph, 2.7 percent of black drivers were speeders, compared with 1.4 percent of white drivers," reported the New York Times, which broke the story last week. "Among drivers going faster than 90 mph, the disparity was ever greater."

This was not what the government was expecting. "Those results startled officials in the state attorney general's office, who had assumed that the radar study would bolster their case that profiling was widespread," the newspaper wrote. "Instead, the study concluded that blacks make up 16 percent of the drivers on the turnpike and 25 percent of the speeders in the 65 mph zones, where complaints of profiling have been most common." It sounds as if the troopers just might be stopping black drivers because of their driving, not because of their race.

New Jersey was all set to release the results of this $500,000 study conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in January when Mark Posner, a lawyer with the Justice Department, told the state to hit the brakes. Informed by his no doubt extensive legal expertise, Mr. Posner determined that the scientific methodology of the study was all wrong. Glare coming off windshields, he suggested, very likely skewed the analysis of the 38,747 photos of drivers that researchers compiled for analysis. Weather or camera placement, he was sure, probably ruined the determinations of the three-member panel charged with identifying drivers by race from the photographs (without any speeding information). "[I]t may well be," he wrote, "that the results reported in the draft report are wrong or unreliable."

It may well be, may it? The only way to find out is to release the report.


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