NJ troopers sue State Police

July 15, 2008 9:22:16 PM PDT
Nearly two dozen minority state troopers have filed a race discrimination lawsuit against the New Jersey State Police. The plaintiffs, 23 black and Hispanic troopers, accuse the state police of bias in promotions, training, special assignments and discipline.

Although some of the troopers have been with the agency more than 20 years and have "exemplary qualifications," none has risen above the rank of sergeant, according to the lawsuit.

The suit, filed Tuesday, alleges that racial discrimination in the ranks has long been ignored by the agency despite prior complaints.

The troopers say the system of promotions is "an arbitrary, antiquated and subjective process that is skewed in favor of male Caucasians."

Supervising officers prepare a list of eligible troopers for promotions using a subjective scoring system, which keeps the mostly white hierarchy of the organization intact, the suit alleges.

David Wald, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said an almost identical percentage of black, Hispanic and white troopers had been promoted over the past few years.

In addition, he said the department has contracted with EB Jacobs, a consultant, to assess the promotional process at the state police and assist in the development of objective promotional selection criteria. The consultant is developing criteria for sergeant, sergeant first class, lieutenant, captain and major, he said.

Meanwhile, the state police remains predominantly white from top to bottom, with 449 blacks and Hispanics out of 3,063 troopers.

Of those with a rank of sergeant or higher, 855 are white, 102 are black and 57 are Hispanic, state police statistics show.

According to U.S. Census data, blacks comprise 14.5 percent of New Jersey's population and persons of Hispanic or Latino origin 15.6 percent.

"The New Jersey State Police has never obtained a work force representative of the population within New Jersey," the lawsuit states. "Moreover, the New Jersey State Police - through its culture - has always prevented its ranks from reflecting the population that it serves in the state through greatly under-represented numbers of persons of color and women."

The agency has 119 women, 103 of whom are white, and 31 of whom have the rank of sergeant of higher.

The troopers want a judge to order a new promotions system, and they are seeking damages and legal fees.

Wald said the attorney general, who oversees the state police, had not yet read the lawsuit and could not comment.

"Enough is enough," said William Buckman, a lawyer who represents the troopers. "This group got together and said they literally were not going to tolerate it anymore. It's humiliating and infuriating. We're talking about a promotional system that has been in place since 1921."

The state police underwent a comprehensive reform overseen by federal monitors after two white troopers shot three unarmed minority men during a 1998 traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.

That case sparked a national debate over racial profiling.

Noting progress in state police training and procedures, a panel of experts appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine last year recommended that New Jersey seek to end the court decree that required the monitoring.