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Racial Profiling

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Racial Profiling


Racial profiling is a current, central, and controversial area of law enforcement. There have been many concerns and issues among the minorities, politicians, law enforcement administrators, and researchers about the police use of racial profiling. This paper discusses the issues of racial profiling, such as racial bias of police, which includes racial profiling of motorist, cyclists, and pedestrians. The issue of discriminatory treatment of minority individuals and minority neighborhoods will also be addressed. This paper also includes the impact of racial profiling upon minority communities, citizens, and law enforcement agencies. This paper concludes with suggestions on how to prevent racial profiling in law enforcement.


Racial profiling is any police or private security practice in which a person is treated as a suspect because of his race, ethnicity, nationality or religion (Shusta, Levine, Wong, and Harris, 2005). This happens when police investigate, stop, frisk, search, or use force against a person based on these characteristics. This also happens when people of color are stopped and searched for traffic violations, known as “DWB” or “driving while black or brown” (Holbert, 2004). The phrase of “driving while black or brown” is not only associated with African Americans and Latinos but also with Asians, Native Americans, Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians. Racial profiling can also involve pedestrian stops, bicycle stops, use of police attack dogs, and suspicion at stores and malls. Racial profiling happens to both men and women, affects all age groups, and is used against people from all socio-economic backgrounds (Shusta et al., 2005).Tens and thousands of innocent drivers, pedestrians, and shoppers across the country have been victims of

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racial profiling. The issue of racial profiling such as racial bias of police and discriminatory treatment of minority individuals needs attention because these stops and searches has gone too far and is affecting everybody. Another reason why racial profiling needs attention is because it has encouraged hate crimes against certain minority groups and people who look like them.

Racially Biased Policing

During the 1990’s there were concerns about the police use of racial profiling as a pretext to stop, question, search, and arrest which later became a major focus (Gerdes, 2004). Police are racially biased because they believe that most drug offenses are committed by minorities. This is the reason why most of the minorities are stopped and searched in traffic stops. Many minorities believe that police stop and search them just because of their skin color. Some people form mental images or judgments about others which is also a form of stereotyping. This kind of observation sometimes adds cultural and personal meaning to what they observe (Harris, 2002).

However, profiling in law enforcement is used by officers to look for characteristics that indicate criminal acts or factors that involve dangerous and threatening behavior. For officers, most of these characteristics are based on their experience and training. If they have had dangerous encounters while on duty, these experiences prepare them for future (Schafer, Carter, and Katz-Bannister, 2004). Officers also get professional training that leads to the development of common characteristics which comes from field training, police academy, and in-service training. All of these help them to establish the practice of profiling. Training and experience provide officers to identify those people or events that are suspicious and need closer attention. Law enforcement officers, airport security personnel, customs and border patrol agents, and some other occupations use profiles because, they don’t normally have specific details or they

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have small amount of information from which they can make decisions (Holbert, 2004). This is the only reason why law enforcement officials use profiles to stop a person for further investigation. There are many examples of racial profiling, but the first use of this term occurred in New Jersey, where troopers were trying to bring illegal drugs into and across the state. Characteristics of the drug couriers were determined by the New Jersey State Patrol. These characteristics included the type of car, the direction of travel, and also their nationality. The New Jersey State Patrol used pretext stops such as, failing to signal, missing license plate or faulty brake lights to determine the criminality of the driver and occupants. The officers then used legal basis to search for illegal drugs (Shusta

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