Jewish World Review March 31, 2002 / 18 Nisan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | 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, why did it order 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 by barring its release. This, of course, has only intensified media interest in the story.
Why? It all goes back to the fact that before we had Osama bin Laden, we had New Jersey state troopers, widely reviled as unreconstructed racists for stopping black motorists at a much higher rate than other motorists, particularly along the New Jersey Turnpike. Troopers do stop black motorists at a much higher rate than white motorists. This happens for variety of explanations, which are either denounced as racial profiling or upheld as common-sense police work. What this new study tells us is that one reason troopers are stopping more black than white motorists is that black motorists 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."
Given that recent records show that black drivers make up 23 percent of the traffic stops on the turnpike, it sounds as if the troopers just might be stopping black drivers because of their driving, not because of their race.
Bad news for the sensitivity-training industry. 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). "Based on the questions we have identified," he wrote, "it may well be that the results reported in the draft report are wrong or unreliable."
The only way to find out for sure whether environmental factors skewed the research is to release their report, not just for the benefit of the taxpayers who paid for it, but for the vetting process of scientific peer review. What's the Justice Department afraid of? A few tough facts seem to have collided with a fragile, pet political theory, and its supporters are doing everything wrong to save
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.