According to figures released this week by the New Jersey State Police, drug arrests on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway have fallen dramatically since the state's racial profiling scandal blew wide open in the summer of 1998. That April, New Jersey state troopers wounded three young, unarmed black and Hispanic men in a stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, unleashing a storm of protest over discriminatory policing.
In 1998, the last year of unfettered race-based traffic stops, state troopers filed 1,269 drug counts on the Turnpike and 1,279 on the Parkway. In 1999, as New Jersey arrest practices were scrutinized by the Department of Justice, those figures fell to 494 and 783, respectively, and declined even further last year, to 370 arrests on the Turnpike and 350 on the Parkway.
In other words, there has been a two-thirds reduction in drug arrests on New Jersey highways since the state began to take action to halt racial profiling.
The decrease was also aided by a consent decree with the Department of Justice mandating reforms and monitoring of highway traffic stops, and a change in state drug enforcement policy now in effect for more than a year. In December 1999, state Attorney General John Farmer Jr. announced a shift in enforcement from focusing on highway drug couriers to going after large-scale trafficking organizations. At the time, Farmer said troopers would continue to attack trafficking on state highways, but that aspect of enforcement would not be "as prominent."
As reported earlier in the Week Online (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/163.html#profilingappeals), the racial profiling scandal has already resulted in hundreds of drug cases being dropped and opened the door to appeals from hundreds more people currently in prison.
At a Tuesday press conference, State Police Superintendent Col. Carson Dunbar attributed the continuing decline to widespread fear among troopers that their jobs could be endangered by overzealous policing and to uncertainty about when cars could appropriately be searched.
"It's a normal reaction for people who have been criticized for being too aggressive," said Dunbar. "I don't think anybody can question the fact that everybody is examining everything that we do, and the troopers are being prudent in the sense that they want to make sure they do the job the right way."
"They've got to be sure about search-and-seizure," said the police commander. This is a normal reaction." "For the first six months or so, there's confusion as to what you should do, what you shouldn't do," he said. "We've had them retrained on what is probable cause, what is not probable cause... Guys are very sure in making sure that they protect themselves, and that's important. They should be very cognizant of what they do."
"There are guys that are more hesitant today than they were years ago," Dunbar added. "That's not all bad."
Troopers who had for years been trained to aggressively pursue drug busts and to target certain ethnic groups were suddenly confused about when to make searches, said Dunbar. But, he added, by the end of 2000, all troopers had been retrained on traffic stops.
"As we go down the road and troopers are more comfortable with probable cause and how far they can go, the numbers will come up," he predicted.
The troopers remain embittered and uncertain, a union representative told the Newark Star-Ledger.
"Clearly, this is a manifestation of the chilling effect of what has transpired over the past couple of years with the State Police," said Dave Jones, vice president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey.
"No guy in this day and age is going to risk his livelihood, his career, his liberties for a dope dealer who's going to make an allegation that the stop was improper or problematic, and hence the trooper ends up being on the defensive," Jones said.
Jones complained to the Star-Ledger that drug couriers continue to use the state's highways, which, he said, were now more attractive to drug runners.
"Every drug dealer in America high-fives when they see someone get in trouble over racial profiling," he said. "Nobody has profited over this more than the drug dealers. They love it."
"And so does every law-abiding African-American in New Jersey," retorted one observer. "White drug dealers, on the other, probably are not high-fiving."
Neither was ACLU of New Jersey executive director Deborah Jacobs impressed with Jones' remarks.
"I find that comment to be disheartening for a number of reasons," she told DRCNet. "All of society benefits from not using racial profiling, and that includes police officers. If they care about the integrity of what they do, they don't want to rely on discriminatory police practices."
"My hope is that a police union representative would respond favorably to solving this problem because he would care about police professionalism," Jacobs continued. "If you care about professionalism, you care that the police enforce the laws equally and use factual standards, not stereotypes or racial profiles."
"And it's really sort of silly, isn't it? I can't imagine where he got his information that drug dealers are happy about this scandal," Jacobs mused. "As for drug dealers, I imagine they would react like every other member of society who cares about equality. And if they're well-educated drug dealers, they would know that the war on drugs has not been enforced equally when it comes to skin color and class."
"One reason most Americans think of a young African-American male when they think of a criminal is because this country's drug policies have been primarily enforced among the poor and racial minorities," Jacobs concluded.
(Visit http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/njprofiling/ to view the 91,000-page New Jersey Attorney General's Office racial profiling archive, made available online by DRCNet.)