Racial Profiling Report: Bloomfield Police and Bloomfield Municipal Court

28 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2016

See all articles by Mark Denbeaux

Mark Denbeaux

Seton Hall Law School

Kelley Kearns

Seton Hall University, School of Law '18

Michael J. Ricciardelli

Seton Hall University, School of Law '08

Date Written: April 7, 2016


Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy & Research selected Bloomfield, New Jersey as a setting for a study of potential racial profiling in its police practices. The results revealed a persistent and disproportionate representation of African Americans and Latinos in the courtroom as compared to their representation in either Bloomfield itself or in the State of New Jersey. Bloomfield, New Jersey is, in many ways, demographically representative of New Jersey itself. According to the most recent census data available, its population of 47,315 is roughly 60% white, 18.5% African American, and 24.5% Latino. In comparison, New Jersey's population is 68.6% white, 13.7% African American, and 17.7% Latino. Bloomfield is ringed on the north, east and west by towns that resemble its demographic makeup. Bloomfield’s southern border, however, is a different story: Newark is 26.3% white, 52.3% African American and 33.8% Latino; East Orange is 4% white, 88.5% African American and 7.9% Latino. The study entailed hundreds of observations of court appearances for traffic offenses and a small number of other minor offenses in Bloomfield Municipal Court, conducted by a team of trained Seton Hall Law School students for 70 hours over the course of a month.

Students also scrutinized a database of 9,715 tickets issued to unique drivers in Bloomfield during a 12-month period immediately preceding the courtroom observations. The individuals with Spanish surnames who were cited in the Bloomfield ticket database closely approximated the Latino percentage observed in court appearances. Given the demographics of both Bloomfield and New Jersey generally, the expected representation in the courtroom would have been around 60% white. Strikingly, the observers reported the inverse, plus: instead of 60% white, African-Americans and Latinos accounted for an astounding 78% of court appearances (43% African American, 35% Latino, 20% White, and 2% other) (n=799).

Remarkably, this racial disproportion was found not only across the board but in various subgroupings -- including Bloomfield itself whose African American and Latino residents accounted for 73% of Bloomfield residents observed before the court, as compared with only 24% white. Similarly, a racial disproportion in ticketing also existed across the five predominantly white border towns. Although the numbers are small (n=39), 64% of those with residences in the predominantly white border towns were African American or Latino while only 33% were white.

Much of the explanation for the racial distribution of tickets is undoubtedly due to the issuance of citations to residents of the cities of Newark and East Orange. The borders of these cities with Bloomfield were overwhelmingly targeted by the Bloomfield Police. To determine areas of police targeting, the database of tickets from the year immediately prior to the observation aspect of the study, was also analyzed for patrolling patterns. Where it could be determined where the traffic stop occurred (which was in some 67% of the cases), the overwhelming majority -- 88.33% -- were in the third of Bloomfield nearest to Newark and East Orange. Added to the courtroom observation data showing a greatly disproportionate number of tickets issued to African Americans and Latinos (78%), this pattern of citations compels the conclusion that African Americans and Latinos are, collectively, Bloomfield Police’s target group.

Indeed, Bloomfield Police policing patterns suggest a de facto “border patrol.” By plotting out ticket incidence and frequency, one can see what essentially amounts to a “wall” of police erected against the Newark and East Orange border areas and their predominantly African American and Latino residents.

This pattern of police citations also resulted in a dramatic subsidy of Bloomfield by African American and Latinos, in large part from residents of Newark and East Orange. For each individual charged, the average cost was $137 plus any surcharges imposed. That suggests that, for African Americans and Latinos, as a group, 7,566 tickets and a total paid to Bloomfield Municipal Court of more than $1,000,000. From the residents of East Orange and Newark who, at 29% of the observed total, received 2,910 tickets, Bloomfield Municipal Court would have received nearly $400,000. The annual budget of the Court is about $500,000, suggesting a substantial “profit” from this pattern of law enforcement, most of it from nonresidents of Bloomfield, and heavily weighted on the backs of African Americans and Latinos as a group. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Municipal Court’s budgeted salaries were projected to have more than doubled in 2015, from $350,600 in 2014 to an estimated $760,794 in 2015.

Keywords: racial profiling, police, racism, law enforcement, New Jersey, traffic stops, diversity, African American, Latino, Hispanic, traffic court, discrimination, ethnicity

JEL Classification: J7

Suggested Citation

Denbeaux, Mark and Kearns, Kelley and Ricciardelli, Michael J., Racial Profiling Report: Bloomfield Police and Bloomfield Municipal Court (April 7, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2760382 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2760382

Mark Denbeaux (Contact Author)

Seton Hall Law School ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

Kelley Kearns

Seton Hall University, School of Law '18 ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

Michael J. Ricciardelli

Seton Hall University, School of Law '08 ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

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