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Troopers draw praise for racial balance in crackdown

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The percentage of tickets issued to blacks during the state troopers' highway crackdown closely resembled the state's black population, which drew praise from a legislator who has been critical of the department in the past.

A breakdown prepared by the state Department of Public Safety shows that during the "Take Back Our Highways" program, blacks received 7,493 tickets, or 28.7 percent of the total, and whites received 18,168, or 69.5 percent.

According to the Census Bureau, Alabama's population is 26.4 percent black and 71.4 percent white.

"In my opinion, these figures show no racial profiling at all," state Rep. Alvin Holmes, chairman of the civil rights division of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Tuesday.

The Department of Public Safety conducted the crackdown Aug. 13-17 by putting an extra 200 officers on the highways, including administrative officers and others who are not normally on patrol. They issued 26,140 tickets. Slightly less than 2 percent of the tickets went to Hispanics, Asians, Indians and other groups.

Holmes, D-Montgomery, has been a frequent critic of the Department of Public Safety during his 33-year legislative career, including accusing the department of racial profiling.

He said Chris Murphy, who was appointed state public safety director in December by Gov. Bob Riley, had assured the Legislative Black Caucus that he would operate the department fairly. To check, Holmes waited until after the crackdown was over to request a racial breakdown of the tickets.

He was impressed by what he saw Tuesday.

"I think the report is accurate and honest and fair. Colonel Murphy is a person of great honesty and integrity," Holmes said.

Lt. Col. Floyd Bingham, deputy director of the department, said he was pleased by Holmes' comments. He said the crackdown was aimed at highway safety and was never directed at any race or ethnic group.

When Holmes was first elected in 1974, the state Department of Public Safety was overwhelmingly white and memories of state troopers beating voting rights marchers in Selma in 1965 were still vivid. A hiring lawsuit and different administrations have brought change.

Today, the state trooper force is 26.3 percent black and the department's support staff, ranging from clerks to computer technicians, is 35.8 percent black, department spokeswoman Martha Earnhardt said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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