OAG Engages Independent Research Team Comprised of Nationally Recognized Experts to Support the Development of the Pilot Program and Independently Evaluate the Efficacy of the Reforms
For Immediate Release: July 11, 2023
Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced the initiation of a traffic stop pilot program that will involve all members of the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) who regularly conduct motor vehicle enforcement actions in an effort to reduce motor vehicle fatalities, increase officer and roadway safety, and reduce concerning racial and ethnic disparities identified in motor vehicle enforcement actions taken by the New Jersey State Police. The Office of the Attorney General has engaged a team of independent researchers to work with leadership from across several Divisions within the Attorney General’s Department of Law and Public Safety (LPS) to develop interventions that will be piloted throughout the NJSP and across the state in coming months.
The research team will be led by Dr. Matthew B. Ross, an Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University and an affiliated scholar at the University of Connecticut, who will be joined by, among others, Dr. CarlyWill Sloan, Assistant Professor of Economics at West Point, and Kenneth Barone, Project Manager with the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at the University of Connecticut. All three researchers have extensive experience in the study of the intersection of police enforcement actions and racial disparatities, and have prior involvement in similar projects nationwide. While the research team will work with LPS to develop and implement the pilot initiatives informed by data they have analyzed, Dr. Ross and his team will retain complete independence in their assessment of the efficacy of the interventions deployed by the NJSP throughout the pilot. Upon the conclusion of the study, the independent findings of the research team will be made publicly available.
Dr. Ross was initially retained by the Office of the Attorney General to conduct an independent analysis of traffic stops made by the NJSP to determine whether there was a disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities. As part of his study, Dr. Ross analyzed data related to 6,177,109 traffic stops made by NJSP between January 2009 and June 2021, data previously made available by the Office of the Attorney General at www.njoag.gov/trafficstops. Within that sample, 60.52% of traffic stops were made of White/non-Hispanic motorists, 18.8% were Black/African American, and 13.44% were Hispanic/Latinx. The share of Black and Hispanic motorists stopped by NJSP has increased over time – from 35.34% of all motorists stopped by NJSP in 2009 to 46.28% in 2021. The overarching conclusion from this analysis was that there was a significant disparity both in the decision to stop a motor vehicle, and in the decision to engage in post-stop enforcement actions such as searches, removing occupants from the vehicle, use of force, and arrest.
“The preliminary findings of the ongoing study being conducted by Dr. Ross are deeply troubling. It is unacceptable for the actions of law enforcement to have a disparate impact on communities of color. All New Jersey residents and visitors to this great state deserve to be treated equally and fairly – especially by people in positions of authority sworn to serve the public. Whether the result of implicit bias, systemic faults in policies, or something more intentional, whatever the root cause of these disparities, I am committed to righting these wrongs,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “I look forward to continuing to work with Dr. Ross and his team. I firmly believe that the work we will do in piloting new initiatives will save lives on New Jersey’s roadways while simultaneously reducing the disparities identified in the initial phase of the study.”
The initial study followed best practices embraced by the academic community doing work in this field of study, and applied several reliable statistical tests to examine and quantify disparity in enforcement outcomes. For example, a solar visibility test, which tracks the variation in the time of sunset throughout the year showed that Black motorists were 9.3% more likely, and Hispanic motorists 16.1% more likely, than white motorists to be stopped when their race was easily visible to law enforcement. The initial findings also revealed the following disparities for Black and Hispanic motorists relative to white motorists stopped by NJSP troopers, controlling for a number of factors.
- More likely to undergo a search once stopped:
- Black motorists were 89.8%, and Hispanic motorists were 46.4%, more likely to be searched once stopped than white motorists.
- When searched, less likely to possess evidence:
- Black motorists were 9.7%, and Hispanic motorists were 26.6%, less likely to have evidence found when searched after a stop than white motorists.
- More likely to be asked to exit their vehicle:
- Black motorists were 14.65%, and Hispanic motorists were 9.6%, more likely to be asked to exit their vehicle once stopped by NJSP than white motorists.
- More likely to be arrested once stopped:
- Black motorists were 87.5%, and Hispanic motorists were 56.8%, more likely to be arrested once stopped by NJSP than white motorists.
- More likely to experience use of force by law enforcement:
- Black motorists were 130%, and Hispanic motorists were 27.5%, more likely to experience force once stopped by NJSP, relative to a dependent mean of 0.010.
Dr. Ross’ findings revealed that Black and Hispanic motorists are much less likely to be stopped for speeding and much more likely to be stopped for other types of violations. However, data on traffic fatalities, which have increased 18.7% since 2020, cite conduct associated with moving violations as one of the leading causes of fatal crashes. Speeding and distracted driving are also significant contributors to fatal and non-fatal crashes, whereas non-moving violations such as faulty equipment, lighting, and tinted windows, are negligible in their contributions to motor vehicle crashes.
The pilot program announced today will involve all members of the New Jersey State Police who regularly engage in the enforcement of motor vehicle violations, though different interventions may be applied to different subsets of the NJSP to allow for evaluation of their effectiveness. For example, some members will be directed to focus all enforcement efforts on the violations most likely to lead to fatal and serious motor vehicle crashes, and refrain from the enforcement of minor infractions absent a contemporaneous report of justification for same – while other members may undergo an audit of motor vehicle stops to examine their civilian interactions. The different interventions will be analyzed independently by the research team on an ongoing basis. The research team will meet regularly with leadership from the Office of the Attorney General and across the LPS – including leadership from NJSP, the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA), the Office of Justice Data (OJD), the Office of Law Enforcement Professional Standards (OLEPS), and the Division of Highway Traffic Safety (HTS) – to ensure interventions are effectively implemented across NJSP and adjusted as needed.
“The women and men of the New Jersey State Police readily accept and embrace the scrutiny and oversight that comes with serving our communities. Whether that is the collection and analysis of motor vehicle stop data as in this study, or body worn camera/in car camera reviews, use of force data collection and analysis, random drug testing, or even the release of disciplinary records to the public, all of these reforms, and others like them regarding accountability and transparency, remain rooted in building public trust,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “It is our hope that the outcome of these pilot programs guides our policies and practices to minimize, if not eliminate, any disparities in how we serve the public, while also having the additional benefit of improving highway traffic safety. Any steps we take to remove barriers to police accountability and transparency can only serve to strengthen the relationships we have fostered in the communities we have taken an oath to serve and protect.”
Attorney General Platkin is committed to transparency in both the process and the findings of the ongoing study and pilot program. Throughout the pilot program, community leaders and advocates will be invited by the Attorney General to meet with the research team as well as the LPS working group to be briefed on the program’s progress and consult on policy reforms informed by the data and findings. Additionally, public briefings about the progress of the pilot program will commence once sufficient data on the interventions has been analyzed by the research team, and will then continue with regularity until the conclusion of the study. The preliminary findings are available here. Attorney General Platkin is committed to publishing the ultimate findings of the research team publicly as soon as possible.