Federal oversight of the New Jersey state police, triggered by an infamous traffic stop nearly a decade ago, neared its conclusion yesterday when Gov. Corzine called for the agency to be freed of the monitoring.
The state police agreed to oversight eight years ago, after the stop and subsequent shooting on the New Jersey Turnpike sparked a national debate on profiling.
Since then, hundreds of changes, costing millions of dollars, have been instituted. Last year, the federal monitors, who have issued reports every six months, called the department a model of law enforcement.
"I've seen exceptional progress by the state police and I think they've done a tremendous job in the reforms they've made over the past eight years," state Attorney General Anne Milgram said yesterday.
The state police will not be freed of oversight until a federal judge in Trenton signs off.
But last year, the U.S. Department of Justice said the agency had made enough progress to end the monitoring, and asked the state to join in a request to the federal court.
Corzine then created a panel of civil-rights and police experts to examine the issue. That panel released its report yesterday, saying the state should join in that motion.
"It is time to move both the state police and the Attorney General's Office from federal intervention and monitoring and recognize that, together, they have become largely self-regulating," the panel said.
The state police entered into a federal consent decree in 1999, the year after two white troopers wounded three unarmed minority men during a traffic stop on the turnpike.
After a lengthy investigation, then-Attorney General Peter Verniero concluded that racial profiling was "real, not imagined."
To avoid a federal civil-rights lawsuit, the state police agreed to complete 124 tasks, such as installing cameras in every patrol car.
The state police superintendent, Col. Rick Fuentes, said troopers now have a "robust management accountability system" that has "no equal."
The panel's report "did not reinvent the state police," he said. "It affirms that the systems we invented . . . are working and are efficient."
The governor's panel said other forms of oversight should continue, including independent audits and monitoring by the governor's new comptroller.
Critics have said that troopers are stopping even more minority drivers than they did a decade ago, and that racial profiling remains a problem.
A study released last year by the American Civil Liberties Union found that blacks were being stopped in "greatly disproportionate" rates at the southern end of the turnpike.
The federal monitors dismissed those findings. The governor's panel found some flaws in the ACLU study's methodology, but said those problems did not undermine its conclusions.
"The minority stops are up, and we have to deal with the fact that we still have racially biased policing going on," said Bill Buckman, a South Jersey lawyer who has represented dozens of clients in racial-profiling cases. "They've made progress, but it has not been as cutting-edge as suggested."
Buckman said he had no problem with ending the consent decree because the monitors were not addressing problems in the state police. He said other forms of oversight must continue over an agency "committed to insularity and secrecy."
Fuentes and the panel both said that there was a danger of the progress being undercut, and that it was important to "codify" the changes.
Fuentes said many of the changes had been driven by technology, such as a computer database that tracks and analyzes vehicle stops. He said funding to maintain the technology must be continued.
"We're proud of where we've gotten to," he said. "The technology issue isn't an inexpensive one. You've got to worry about the continued costs."
To see the full 118-page report or an executive summary, go to