As readers of this blog have probably figured out by now, I’m organizing an event this Tuesday at Felician University regarding racial profiling by the Police Department and Municipal Court in Bloomfield, New Jersey.* The claim alleging racial profiling has been made by Professor Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall University Law School, who’s the featured speaker at the event. (I invited the mayor of Bloomfield, Michael Venezia, to send a representative from municipal government, but he declined the invitation himself and declined to send a representative. I also asked the Police Director through the Community Policing Unit, but never heard back; asked one member of the Town Council, who eventually declined; and asked one member of the Bloomfield Civic and Human Rights Commission, who also declined.)
As I’ve said several times before, I’ve taken no public stand on the findings of the report. Neither has Felician University and neither have any of the sponsors of the event.** In fact, I don’t have a stand to take, publicly or privately. Mostly I have a bunch of questions. As the discussant/moderator of the event, I have the prerogative of setting the agenda for the discussion period following the talk, but there’s no reason to think that the discussion will revolve around my questions in particular. So I thought I’d throw them out there on the blog, as food for thought, and as some rough indication of what we might discuss at the event itself. I may add a few questions if I think of any later. Feel free to come up with some of your own in the combox.
- As a methodological matter, the report claims that its selection of Bloomfield was “random.” But it’s been alleged by Mayor Michael Venezia that the authors’ selection of Bloomfield wasn’t random; it was motivated by partisan and interested considerations. How do you respond? (I owe the preceding link to Bloomfield resident Carl Lorentzen).
- For the last several years, the Bloomfield Police Department has consistently been reporting decreases in the crime rate for Bloomfield. Isn’t that an indication of success in policing? And isn’t that success its own best argument for the methods the Police Department has been using?
- In the video “Driving While Black in New Jersey,” Bloomfield’s Police Director, Samuel DeMaio, rebuts the charge of racial profiling by asserting that the police simply go where the crimes are. Doesn’t he have a point, given the drop in crime rates? There is, in any case, good research to suggest that there is a race-specific differential offender effect. Thus Tillyer and Engel 2012 assert: “Analytic models indicated that Black drivers speed more frequently and engage in more severe speeding compared to White drivers, net of controls.” If so, wouldn’t we justifiably expect a higher frequency of stops, summons, searches, and arrests for black versus white drivers?
- I spent eight weeks this past spring as a participant in the Bloomfield Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy, where I met and dealt with a fairly wide range (though admittedly a small number) of police officers from Bloomfield. (I even met Michael Venezia and Samuel DeMaio.) None of them seemed like racists to me (including Venezia and DeMaio). No one said (or insinuated) anything racist. No one defended racial profiling. In fact, the one African American participant in the program was highly supportive of their efforts, as is Wartyna Davis, a Councilwoman-at-Large (who is herself African-American). How is it possible for a police department to engage in racial profiling if there doesn’t seem to be any racial animus in the people alleged to be engaging in it, and if the department seems to have significant support from African-American residents? Many people would find the allegation hard to accept under those circumstances.
- In the part of the report that deals with the municipal court (p. 15), you point out that Bloomfield Police squad cars have been alleged (in court) to have stopped cars outside of Bloomfield’s city limits (on the part of Bloomfield Avenue that lies in Newark). To a layperson, this would seem to be illegal, or at least disqualifying of the legal validity of a stop: aren’t Bloomfield police officers required to conduct stops in Bloomfield? But you say that that “[t]he jurisdiction argument was to no avail” in Bloomfield Municipal Court (p. 15). Could you explain the law here? Are legal stops conducted outside of jurisdiction valid or invalid? Is it legitimate for a judge to dismiss a jurisdictional argument without further consideration? If it’s not legitimate, is it grounds for disciplinary action against the judge? And how would such action take place?
It should go without saying (but on this topic, nothing really goes without saying) that these are questions. A question is a request for information. Yes, every question makes presuppositions that involve assertions, but it doesn’t follow that the questioner is necessarily endorsing the assertion implicit in the question.
So when I bring up Michael Venezia’s allegations in question #1, I shouldn’t be understood to be asserting them myself. When I ask whether a decreased crime rate implies success in the methods that brought it about in question #2, I shouldn’t be understood to be asserting that I myself believe that the methods have been successful, that they justify racial profiling, or even that the crime rate is down. Question #3 doesn’t imply that I endorse the differential offender hypothesis proposed by Tillyer and Engel 2012, and question #4, though phrased in the first person, doesn’t imply (or exclude the possibility) that I am one of the “many” referred to at the end. And so on.
I’ll have something to say about Bloomfield Township’s continuing pattern of studiously ignoring my existence and then taking petty jabs at the event I’m organizing once the event is over. This commentary will come in illustrated form, and feature a photograph of me standing next to the Police Director. You won’t want to miss it.
*The event takes place Tuesday, September 27 at 6:30 pm in the first-floor auditorium of the Education Commons Building at Felician University’s Rutherford campus, 223 (or 227) Montross Ave, Rutherford, New Jersey 07070. Free parking available in Lot D across the street from the venue.
**The event is co-sponsored by the Felician University Committee on Leadership and Social Justice, the University’s Department of Criminal Justice, its United Nations Fellows Program, and its Pre-Law Program.