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These signs, though, can also indicate the presence of college students -- which is, in fact, the case here. They were speeding. After the New York cars pull into traffic, Lewis shows Bromwell and his partner, Rob Penny, the newspaper clippings, hoping they will back him up. My shooting -- a black. Robbie Bishop, down in Georgia, killed by a black. North Carolina trooper, killed by a black. Bromwell looks uneasy. I ask him if he believes in a connection between the race of the shooters and the crimes they commit.

This is what a cop might tell you in a moment of reckless candor: in crime fighting, race matters. When asked, most cops will declare themselves color blind. But watch them on the job for several months, and get them talking about the way policing is really done, and the truth will emerge, the truth being that cops, white and black, profile. Here's why, they say. African-Americans commit a disproportionate percentage of the types of crimes that draw the attention of the police.

Blacks make up 12 percent of the population, but accounted for 58 percent of all carjackers between and Whites accounted for 19 percent. Victim surveys -- and most victims of black criminals are black -- indicate that blacks commit almost 50 percent of all robberies.

Blacks and Hispanics are widely believed to be the blue-collar backbone of the country's heroin- and cocaine-distribution networks. Black males between the ages of 14 and 24 make up 1. Reason, not racism, cops say, directs their attention. Cops, white and black, know one other thing: they're not the only ones who profile. Civilians profile all the time -- when they buy a house, or pick a school district, or walk down the street. Even civil rights leaders profile. But no amount of ''context'' matters when you fear that you are about to be mugged. At a closed-door summit in Washington between police chiefs and black community leaders recently, the black chief of police of Charleston, S.

I asked what this meant about the value of life in this community. The police chief in Los Angeles, Bernard Parks, who is black, argues that racial profiling is rooted in statistical reality, not racism. In my mind it is not a great revelation that if officers are looking for criminal activity, they're going to look at the kind of people who are listed on crime reports. Chief Parks defends vigorously the idea that police can legitimately factor in race when building a profile of a criminal suspect.

We don't find Mexican-Americans, or blacks or other immigrants.

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It's a collection of several hundred Colombians who commit this crime. If you see six in a car in front of the Jewelry Mart, and they're waiting and watching people with briefcases, should we play the percentages and follow them? It's common sense. What if you follow the wrong Colombian, or track an Ecuadorean by mistake?

I asked Parks to comment on the 3-out-of hypothetical. In Maryland, the state police, as part of a settlement of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, reported that on a particular stretch of highway, the police came up with drugs in 3 out of every 10 consent searches. This was deemed unacceptable by the A. That's a success story. This isn't brain surgery. The profile didn't get invented for nothing.

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I have what you might call a profile. I pull up alongside a car with black males in it. Something doesn't match -- maybe the style of the car with the guys in it. I start talking to them, you know, 'nice car,' that kind of thing, and if it doesn't seem right, I say, 'All right, let's pull it over to the side,' and we go from there. He is quiet and self-critical, and the words sat in his mouth a while before he let them out. His partner, Gene Jones, says: ''Mark is good at finding stolen cars on the street.

Real good. We are driving late one sticky Saturday night through the beat-down neighborhood of Logan, in the northern reaches of Philadelphia. The nighttime commerce is lively, lookouts holding down their corners, sellers ready to serve the addict traffic. It's a smorgasbord for the two plainclothes officers, but their attention is soon focused on a single cluster of people, four presumptive buyers who are hurrying inside a spot the officers know is hot with drugs. The officers pull to the curb, slide out and duck behind a corner, watching the scene unfold.

The suspects are wearing backward baseball caps and low-slung pants; the woman with them is dressed like a stripper. A cynical half-smile shows on his face.

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The four buyers are white. Jones and Robinson are black, veterans of the street who know that white people in a black neighborhood will be stopped.

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Faster than a Rastafarian in Scarsdale. Jones and Robinson, whose intuition is informed by experience, don't know quite what to make of my suggestion. The whites step out of the building, separate and dissolve into the night before Jones gets to make his stop. Jones is unhappy; he's proud of his tracking skills. Few cops ever answer yes at the outset. I mean, you're a cop.

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You know who's committing the crimes. It's your neighborhood. That's how it works. Jones and Robinson are assigned to Philadelphia's 35th Police District, one of the more drug-ridden districts in a drug-ridden city. Certain sections of Philadelphia are still very much lawless. Last year, the city hired John Timoney, who served as first deputy commissioner under William Bratton in New York City, to revive a police department that had become tragically inept.

Timoney, by all accounts, has done a remarkable job reforming the department, and letting the criminal underclass know that their actions will bring consequences. Jones and Robinson are surprised to hear, for instance, that the smoking of marijuana in public places is actively discouraged by New York police. They express this surprise after they try to clear a drug corner of young men who continue smoking fat blunts even after Robinson and Jones alert them to the fact that they are in the presence of law-enforcement officers.

They stub out their joints -- but not before one man takes one last, deep drag -- and move across the street. Jones shakes his head and says, ''It's like there aren't any laws out here. Like many black cops, Jones and Robinson have more in common with their white colleagues than they do with, say, the Rev.

Al Sharpton. One day, while driving through a particularly rank stretch of their police district, Jones decides that I should interview drug dealers on the subject of police harassment and racial profiling. The point he hopes to make is that the complaints of racial harassment are illegitimate. Jones approaches one group of dealers, heavy-lidded young men drinking ounce bottles of malt liquor.

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One dealer, who gives his name as Si-Bee, is asked by Jones whether the police are harassing young blacks or simply enforcing the law. Probable cause. Big word. Just messing with us. We return to the car, and Jones laughs: ''That one,'' he says, pointing out the window, ''I arrested for dealing.

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That one we got in a stolen car. That one, the one who wouldn't talk to me, I arrested two months ago. I'm going to court soon to testify against him. We stop at another corner, another group of feckless youth. Same questions, same responses. I decide to switch subjects. Instead of talking about Philadelphia, I want to know what happens when they drive the New Jersey Turnpike.

Jones, it turns out, is a staff sergeant in the New Jersey National Guard. I won't mess with those troopers. Here's the heart of the matter, as Chief Greenberg of Charleston sees it: ''You got white cops who are so dumb that they can't make a distinction between a middle-class black and an underclass black, between someone breaking the law and someone just walking down the street.

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Black cops too. The middle class says: 'Wait a minute. I've done everything right, I pushed all the right buttons, went to all the right schools, and they're jacking me up anyway. We are sitting in her office in the State House in Trenton. She still seems a bit astonished that her state has become the Mississippi of racial profiling.

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Whitman, though burned by the behavior of her state troopers, is offering them a generous dispensation, given her definition of racial profiling. There's no other probable cause. Her narrow, even myopic, definition suggests that only stone racists practice racial profiling. But the mere sight of black skin alone is not enough to spin most cops into a frenzy.