Ashcroft to Investigate Racial Profiling

Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday the Department of Justice will start to investigate "racially discriminatory policing" in 13 cities. Police departments have already been sued for profiling in eight states.

The landmark case that started federal investigation for racial profiling was in New Jersey, where earlier this month, the state agreed to pay $13 million to three unarmed minority men who were shot by state police officers while driving in their van on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1998.

New Jersey and other states have tried to eliminate profiling. In cities where police receive federal funding, they are now required to keep track of the race of anyone who is stopped. Also, mobile video recorders have been installed in police cars, and police officials who defended profiling have been removed from their posts.

"We seek to treat people the way we ourselves want to be treated," said Col. Carston Dunbar, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. "That may sound simplistic, but that's really at the heart of resolving the issue."Studies: Profiling Ineffective

State and federal studies have now found that profiling is an ineffective enforcement tool.

"We found that if you stopped a hundred "white" cars, 10 percent of the time you would find drugs, and that if you stopped a hundred "black" cars, 10 percent of the time you would find drugs," said Debbie Ramierez of the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, Mass.

In other words, according to Ramierez, race made no difference. Still, convincing police has not always been easy. The head of New Jersey's state police union says he does not support racial profiling. However, the old habit of stereotyping drug carriers isn't going to die easily.

"Groups such as Rastafarians typically deal in marijuana, [and] Colombians generally deal in cocaine," said Edward Lennon, president of the New Jersey State Troopers Union. "And not too leave anyone out, white motorcycle gangs deal in methamphetamines."

Nevertheless, government autorities believe that the case against racial profiling is growing. In 1999, the U.S. Customs Service, who once used race as part of its criminal screening, changed their screenings to performing random checks. Once they did that, the arrest rate went up 300 percent.

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