N.J. police targeted black and Latino neighborhoods to fulfill ticket quotas, officers say

Julian Shen-Berro

The North Brunswick Police Department targeted black and Latino neighborhoods with racially discriminatory practices for almost a decade, allowing police officers to line their pockets at the expense of people of color, several police officers have alleged.

According to an investigation by NBC New York’s I-Team, officers targeted minority neighborhoods in order to fulfill ticket quotas, racking up more and more overtime pay with each ticket they wrote — an unofficial policy that was widely understood in the department, police say.

They called the practice “hunting at the border,” referring to the border between North Brunswick and New Brunswick, and roads heavily trafficked by minorities.

“They’re saying they’re going out hunting,” one officer told NBC New York. “You go to traffic court and you see the impact. Ninety percent of the people you see there are blacks and Latinos.”

One officer said in order to fulfill quotas quickly, they would write up tickets for minor infractions, like having “something hanging from the mirror.”

In a statement released Thursday, NBPD said the report “fails to tell the story of well-rounded officers, well balanced North Brunswick police department.”

The department pointed to allegations of racial profiling which it had faced in October, after which an investigation by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office discovered no criminal activity. It also cited a statement from Mayor Francis Womack III in response to the investigation.

“To say that in the United States driver profiling, targeting or ticket quotas in police departments never happened or doesn't happen is disingenuous and would insult one’s intelligence,” Womack said. “When anyone suggests that it is happening in North Brunswick, the allegations are taken seriously.

But police officers, who said the practice ended in 2018 after the Palisades Parkway Police Department came under heat for a similar arrest-based rewards program, said it had lasting damage.

“The repercussions are still being felt,” said Mike Campbell, a veteran officer of the police department. “Some people still have warrants. Some are still paying summonses, some have experienced suspensions or they lost their job.”

Najaer Brown, 24, told NBC New York he was issued a ticket over a seat belt initially, before it escalated over missing court dates.

“I had got a warrant that I didn’t know about,” he said. “Just came back from school. Got pulled over, they locked me up.”

His license was revoked shortly after.

“I have a car — had a car. Can’t use it because I don’t have a license,” Brown said. Now, he added, his grandmother must drive him everywhere.

Kesi Foster, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, told NBC News that the NBPD, "like too many police departments across the country, is threatening the safety of black and other communities of color by targeting them to fill quotas."

“Reducing these communities down to numbers to fill a quota is inhumane and unacceptable," said Foster. "We must remember that with every abusive police interaction, the consequences too often include humiliation, fear and brutality.”