Are NJ state troopers racial profiling against whites?

Over the years we’ve heard (in the NY-NJ area) that NJ state troopers might be guilty of racial profiling and pulling over more blacks then whites for traffic violations.

So the US dept. of Justice did a study and found that blacks speed 2x more often then whites but make up about 1/10 th (maybe 1/4) the drivers on the NJ turnpike.

Either way it would appear that speeding whites might be getting pulled over disproportionately more then speeding blacks.

But it is hard to collect the exact numbers and I don’t know if the 2x I stated above is taking into consideration the smaller number of blacks driving on this road.

My GQ is statistically who is more likely to be ticketed if they are speeding a white driver or a black driver - using only the DOJ study and the tickets give out. Are whites being discriminated against?

As far as I know, NJ hasn’t released any figures on speeding tickets broken down by race.

You don’t give adequate statistics to make any determination about this issue, nor do you provide a link to or any valuable information from the U.S. Department of Justice study. Which study? What’s it called? If we had this information, maybe we could find it on the web and make an effort to answer your question.

As far as i’m aware, most USDOJ studies are conducted on a national level, so it would also be difficult to extrapolate from their findings to the specific case of NJ . Also, the two statistics you give are not only given without any citation, but do not correlate in any meaningful way.

First, you say that blacks are twice as likely as whites to exceed the speed limit. Really? That seems unlikely to me, and i’d certainly need to see some evidence. Then you say that blacks make up 1/10 (or maybe 1/4) of drivers in NJ. But you give no figures for what proportion of people pulled over for speeding are black, unless that is what you meant to say when referring to 1/10 or 1/4. The fact that that blacks make up a small percentage of the drivers does not automatically mean that they are pulled over with greater or lesser frequency than whites.

I found one DOJ study that does deal with traffic stops, entitled Contacts between Police and the Public: Findings from the 1999 National Survey (available on the web here). Some of the study’s findings regarding traffic stops include:

Now, as you can see from the last paragraph here, we need statistics on how likely blacks and whites are to exceed the speed limit. You said in your OP that blacks were twice as likely as whites to do this, but you’ll need to produce a study or some other evidence to prove it.

If we leave that issue aside for a minute, we can go on to look at how regularly speeding was given as a reason for pulling over blacks and whites. The DOJ study has this to say:

Without further information, it’s almost impossible to tell from these statistics whether or not any racial profiling was going on.

We also need to remember a couple of things about this DOJ study. First, as i said before, it is a national survey. And second, it is just that - a survey. These figures do not come from police department statistics, but are the result of a nationwide survey of 80,543 people (see p. 30). Such a large sample should provide a statistically valid source of information. By way of comparison, many polls and surveys used on news programs and in newspapers survey as few as a couple of thousand people.

Now, to move to the NJ case, the only information i have comes from an article in Z Magazine (March, 2002, pp. 40-44; not available online yet) by Tim Wise, entitled “Racial Profiling and its Apologists.” Wise has some interesting statistics on NJ turnpike stops that are drawn from a new book by David Harris, Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work (New Press, 2002). I don’t have Harris’s book, so i don’t know exactly what sources he used to compile his statistics. All i can do is give you the information that Wise takes from his book; if you want further citations, i suggest that you check out Harris’s book. Regarding NJ, Wise’s article says:

The italics in this quote are mine; that sentence indicates that overall blacks do not break traffic laws more often than whites, at least on the NJ turnpike. Wise goes on to say:

I’ll say again that i don’t know which study these figures are taken from, but i’m sure you can find it in Harris’s footnotes, if you’re interested. If these figures are even close to the truth, i don’t think it’s whites who are being targetted by profiling on the Jersey Turnpike.

I think I can throw a little info into the discussion, but I don’t know how much it will clear up. There was a recent AP story on how New Jersey conducted a study on drivers’ speeding habits on the New Jersey Turnpike broken down by race. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find said study itself to look at exactly what it said.

To summarize the study: according to the AP, drivers were photographed on the NJT and had their speed checked at the same time. Then, three evaluators were given the pictures with the speeds hidden, who then decided what race the drivers were in each picture. This was then compared to the speed they were going, and the speed limit in the place they were photographed. The study found:

“Black” drivers sped about twice as often as “white” drivers.
The racial speeding gap grew as the speed limit grew.
However, when the speed limit was 55, there was no significant speeding gap.

Now, this leaves me with some questions, which is making my inability to find this study somewhat frustrating:

  1. How about when the speed limit is above 55? Or are there no such zones on the NJT?
  2. How much of the NJT has a speed limit below 55? How many samples were pulled from these sections?
  3. What is the racial breakdown per zone? I mean, it’s possible that the zones sampled had differing traffic patterns and different racial breakdowns, so a zone where almost everyone sped might have a larger percentage of blacks traveling through it, which would inflate black speeding percentages.
  4. By “twice as often”, does that mean per-capita, or overall? That is, were twice as many “black” people speeding as “white” people, or rather that an individual “black” driver, picked at random would be twice as likely to be speeding as an individual “white” driver, also picked at random?

According to information posted in the Great Debates thread on this subject, Racial Profiling Vs. Different Races Breaking The Law At Different Rates, far from doing the study, the Feds objected to problems in the study’s methodology.

Thanks for the link, tomndebb, it had a link to the actual study, albeit in pdf rather than html. It clears up my earlier questions, but leads to new ones. Here’s my opinion on what the study says.

First, the only two speed limits involved are 55 and 65 mph.

At 55 mph, there is not much of a difference in speeding habits between the races.

At 65 mph, there was a big discrepency in speeding habits between the races. Specifically, a given black driver was twice as likely to be speeding as a given white driver, however

…only 1.7% of drivers in 65 mph zones were speeding. Now, nowhere in the study could I find the actual number of drivers sampled in the 65 mph zones. But, lets assume that the researchers sampled as many people in the 55 mph zones as in the 65 mph zones.

If that’s true, then of the 26k samples considered reliable, that means that 13k were in 65 mph zones. From the driver self-identification results, (page 9) 14.2% of the drivers were black. So, of those 13k drivers, 1.8k were black. Of those drivers, according to the survey, 2.7% were speeding. That’s 50 drivers.

Now, without going into any particular criticisms of the study, I’d like to get back to the question asked by the OP. Since 13% of drivers in the 55mph zones were speeding, and the racial breakdown therein were quite in line with the racial breakdown of the drivers en toto, then adding 50 additional black speeders to the mix, along with the other races’ speeders in the 65 mph zones should not have radically altered the racial percentages of speeders. So, no, from the data of this survey, white speeders would not have been pulled over proportionally more often than blacks.

Finally, though I had to make the assumption that half of the samples were in 65 mph zones, since those numbers weren’t in the pdf, page 7 has a breakdown of the samples based upon the milepost. If someone knows the speed limit of the NJT at those particular mileposts, or knows of a reference, we could nail down the numbers in question.

It’s a bad practice to follow-up to one’s own post, but I found some information on the portions of the NJT that have a 65 mph limit. According to Appendix A-1 the 65 mph zone is from MP 1.5 to MP 97.2. This is somewhat significant, because that’s 10 of the 14 sampled areas, although the other 4 seem to be more heavily-sampled than the first 10.

Doing further math brought me to the realization that I had made an additional assumption post above. The samples taken were actually heavily weighted to sampling drivers who were speeding. They then used statistical methods to derive that 2.7% of black drivers in 65 mph zones were speeding. But, of the black drivers that they sampled, far more than 50 were speeding.

But my point is still valid, that the numbers by which black drivers speed in 65 mph zones is significantly smaller than the total number of black speeders in 55 mph zones, so the average speeder demographics on the NJT as a whole breaks down according to race fairly evenly.

I didn’t give cites in the OP because I heard pieces of this all over the news lately and am trying to put it together.

As for the 65 vs 55 section - pretty much you can take it at the above mile markers but the NJT speed limit varies. The signs in the sections along NYC are changable and I’ve seen it at 65, 55, 45 depending on condition.

Also one reason I can see that there is not much diffrence in the 55 section is due to congestion - you just can’t go 15 mph over the speed limit. If it opens up then the SL might change to 65.

Congestion wouldn’t explain it — about 13% of drivers were speeding in 55 mph zones, but only 1.7% of drivers were speeding in 65 mph zones.