New Jersey to require all police officers to learn what is _ and isn't _ racial profiling - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

New Jersey to require all police officers to learn what is _ and isn't _ racial profiling

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ For the first time, New Jersey is requiring every one of its police officers to go through training designed to get them talking about what is _ and isn't _ racial profiling.

It is the largest effort yet by the Garden State to combat race-based police tactics, which government leaders grudgingly admitted troopers did for years.

A year ago, Gov. James E. McGreevey signed a law making profiling illegal. It carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

But state officials say a more proactive approach is needed.

``We can talk about prosecutions till the cows come home, or we can really do something in partnership with the police departments,'' Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said.

The training program tells officers of all ranks that ``racially influenced policing'' is wrong in every case, whether it's used to justify a traffic stop or the search of black pedestrian in a white suburb.

Harvey and his deputies have worked on the training package for the past two years, all while overseeing reforms to the state police ordered by a federal court.

Every police department should get the materials in July, and local training sessions are expected to begin in the fall, Harvey said.

The video portion features a series of re-enactments, all based on existing case law.

In the first, two police officers stop two black men driving in a suburb. One officer confronts the driver, asking him where he is from and why he is there. ``OK, just a routine check,'' the officer says.

``I guess they just wanted to know why we're here,'' the driver says to the passenger. ``I didn't know we needed a reason,'' the passenger says.

The video screen then asks police officers if that was good police work, questionable behavior or outright racial profiling. The question also asks officers if they need more information to make a decision.

Some scenarios involve people who have drugs or weapons, but others feature people who turn out to be law-abiding citizens.

All force officers to confront their own stereotypes and old habits, Harvey said. The goal is to remove any argument that race-based tactics may have at least gotten a criminal off the street.

Training programs for New Jersey State Police were rewritten as part of a massive overhaul of that agency. It came after the state agreed to federal oversight in December 1999, more than a year after two troopers fired on a van carrying four unarmed minority men on the turnpike, wounding three.

The incident brought to a head an ongoing controversy over the targeting of minority motorists for traffic stops. Eight months later state authorities admitted that state troopers engaged in the practice.

Lawyers who have represented minority clients in profiling cases said the training should help.

``I think it sounds like a great thing,'' said Deborah Jacobs, the ACLU's New Jersey executive director, who praised the state for ``quality control'' and ``consistent packaging'' of the training materials.

But police departments need to do more than just one training session, however good it might be, she said.

``I'd like to know that this is just a first step,'' Jacobs said. ``You don't eradicate the kinds of racial profiling practices that have been ingrained in New Jersey police departments overnight.''
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