TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ New Jersey officials did not begin to address the problem of racial profiling until long after they became aware of its widespread use, current and former state police officers testified.

The testimony Monday marked the first of four days of hearings by a state Senate committee into New Jersey's response to racial profiling.

The officers said that in May 1997, George Rover, a deputy attorney general, offered then-Attorney General Peter Verniero summaries of reports showing minorities were stopped by state troopers at alarmingly high rates.

Verniero and other officials discussed legal strategies in pending civil and criminal actions, but did not discuss the actual problem of racial profiling, the witnesses said.

Rover was slated to be the next witness at the hearings, scheduled to continue Tuesday.

Verniero did not publicly admit that state troopers were using racial profiling until a report on the practice was released in April 1999. Verniero, now a state Supreme Court justice, said it was only after an April 1998 shooting of four minority men on the New Jersey Turnpike that the problem ``crystalized'' in his mind.

Verniero released the 1999 report the day after announcing an indictment against the two troopers in the shooting. Witnesses testified Monday that Verniero rushed to release the report because the U.S. Justice Department planned to file a civil rights lawsuit.

The Senate panel plans to call on Verniero to answer allegations that his office did not cooperate in the early stages of a racial profiling investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

On Monday, Sgt. Thomas Gilbert testified that he relayed information about profiling ``up the chain of command'' years before Verniero admitted the practice existed.

``I believed I had an obligation to follow this information and pass it on up to my supervisors,'' Gilbert said.

In recent years, allegations of profiling in New Jersey have been a major focus of a nationwide examination of the practice.