Racial Profiling, Implicit Bias, Take Center Stage

Highland Park Borough Council is expected to provide an update this week on the town’s latest efforts to stem implicit bias with in its municipal agencies. It is also expected to address concerns related to alleged racial profiling by its police department following a Star-Ledger report that compiled statewide use-of-force police data.

The latest update comes more than six months following an incident where police reportedly spotted a Highland Park 17-year-old black male entering what turned out to be his own Northside home. Police were at the time participating in a countywide investigation into a spate of several dozen home burglaries in multiple area jurisdictions.

Police reported that they spotted the youth, later identified as Amiri Tulloch in a March 15, 2018 Facebook post by his mother, Highland Park Board of Education member Monique Coleman.

“The officer looks past me asking if a young man just came in my house, and I told him yes and who it was. By this point, my house is surrounded by three HP police cars and two undercover cars. And one undercover guy had already walked around the side of my house by the time I got to the door.”

The officer Ms. Coleman referred to was veteran Highland Park Police Det. Sean McGraw.

The Highland Park Planet interviewed Mr. Tulloch, also a one-time Planet contributor, in 2015. Mr. Tulloch is now enrolled at Columbia University.

Personality Profile: Q&A with Amiri Tulloch

Since the incident, equity advocates—which included several students from Highland Park Public Schools—have called for police reform and a comprehensive audit of police practices. Many of those concerns were voiced at the Council’s March 20, 2018 meeting.

The Borough Council is expected to create a “Bias-Free” citizen advisory commission that is tasked to assist in initiatives designed to stem profiling and implicit bias inside and outside municipal agencies.

The meeting comes just weeks after the Star-Ledger issued a statewide, department-by-department audit of use of force police statistics. The report shows that based on population, a black person in Highland Park is more than 10 times more likely to have force used on them than a white person. It also reports that based on arrests, a black person in Highland Park is 51 percent more likely to have force used on them than a white person.

Since the report was released in early December, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General called for a “statewide data collection system requires a complete overhaul.” The statement, however, did “caution reporters and members of the public about relying on data in the Star-Ledger’s database: because our state lacks uniform data collection methods, the records obtained by the Star-Ledger may be inaccurate in some cases and may cause those relying on the data to draw incorrect conclusions about the state of law enforcement in New Jersey.”

“We are committed to fixing this problem. It falls to those of us in law enforcement to improve our data collection efforts and ensure that any data we provide the public is both accurate and properly contextualized,” the statement read.

The AG’s office announced it would lead an effort to create a new system for obtaining use-of-force data:

  • Standardize the process that state, county, and local law enforcement agencies use to record use-of-force incidents and report them to the State, including through the use of standardized electronic forms;
  • Identify ways to contextualize use-of-force incidents with accurate information about the officers’ actions; and
  • Identify one or more academic institutions to partner with the State of New Jersey to help analyze use-of-force data and ensure the rigor of the state’s data collection efforts.

Read more from the AG’s office here.

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