N.J. Knew of Racial Profiling for Years

T R E N T O N, N.J., Oct. 12, 2000 -- State police commanders knew troopers were targeting minority drivers at least three years before the state admitted racial profiling existed, according to internal agency documents.

A 1996 memo to then-superintendent Col. Carl Williams showed that troopers had for years overwhelmingly stopped minority motorists more than whites.

In a three-month period in 1994, 94 percent of New Jersey Turnpike motorists stopped by troopers from one barracks were minorities.

“At this point we are in a very bad spot,” the sergeant who examined the police records wrote Williams.

In another 1996 memo obtained today, Williams wrote the word “No!” and drew an arrow next to a recommendation that individual troopers be held responsible and subject to counseling for racial profiling.

It wasn’t until last year that then-Attorney General Peter Verniero admitted some troopers routinely targeted minority drivers. At the time, federal investigators were looking into civil rights claims, and troopers said they were ordered to stop minorities to boost drug bust statistics.

Did They Know?

Critics have said that Verniero, Williams and other state officials knew of the practice and did nothing to stop it.

In 1999, Gov. Christine Whitman fired Williams after he said in a newspaper interview that minority groups are more likely to be involved in drug trafficking. New Jersey also agreed to a settlement with the Justice Department and allowed an independent monitor to oversee the State Police.

Documents like those obtained Thursday — and others reported by The New York Times and the Record of Hackensack — appear to link Verniero to several meetings about racial profiling before his 1999 report detailing the practice. Verniero is now a New Jersey Supreme Court justice.

“Justice Verniero was asked all these questions during the course of the Legislature’s racial profiling hearings,” Whitman said today. “He answered them in the fashion that he has always answered questions, which was honestly and straightforwardly.”

Repeated allegations of racial profiling met with a “pattern of denial” by state police that the problem existed, Whitman said. She said she did not know racial profiling was a fact until Verniero’s report.

“That was both frustrating and disappointing, and it angered me, because we had been hearing a lot, we had been concerned about this, and yet there had been his consistent belief that this was not something that occurred, and I put my credibility on the line as well, saying that there was no racial profiling,” she said.

Lawyers for people who say they were stopped solely because of their race won a court order to obtain all State Police records related to racial profiling. All 50,000 pages of the material are expected to be made public in the next several weeks.

“The materials included should show what they knew and when they knew it, and it won’t paint a pretty picture,” Deputy Public Defender Kevin Walker said today.