Racial profiling in police work

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‘The U.S government’s use of discriminatory profiling in the name of national security violates human rights and has a profound and wide reaching impact on South Asian, Arab, Eastern and Muslim community members.” These are words from a documentary that was released on April 28th, 2010 by the center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University’s School of Law in regards to racial profiling in police work (Center for Human Rights and Global Justice 2010). The term ‘racial profiling’ has no definition that is universally accepted but it can be used to refer to the action of stopping people and inspecting those who may be passing or driving through public places, highways, airports or other urban areas using a statistical race and ethnic profile (Callahan and Anderson, 2001). This issue of racial profiling has become a controversial topic in the U.S. for some time now and thus this essay seeks to find out the practice’s pros and cons.

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In the year 2002, an attempt was made to define the practice one more time, this being done by Peter Siggins who was at that time the chief deputy attorney general in California. While giving a speech at the school of Law at Santa Clara, he stated that racial profiling is a government practice directed to individuals or groups that may be suspects due to their race. This could either be done intentionally or otherwise. This definition means that profiling can take place based on race, with a belief that a particular group of people is prone to commit crimes. On the other hand, it could also take place indirectly, for instance, in a situation where there is smuggling of certain goods into the country and the law enforcers find out the country where the goods originate from. This would mean that any immigrant from that country would have to go through some profiling (Kareem, 2010).

The origins of racial profiling

Howard Teten, who was the FBI research chief in the 1950s, is credited by criminologists for popularizing the practice. In those years, he used profiling to pinpoint criminals while using their personality traits which he got from evidences collected at crime scenes that included how the crime was perpetrated. By the time 1980s elapsed, the technique had already spread and was being used by the departments of local police. However, the practice was marred by some setbacks. For example, many law enforcers did not have good training in psychology and thus profiling was not successfully carried out. Although Teten used the practice in investigating homicides, the local police used it in such cases as robberies which were really mundane (Kareem, 2010).

In the 1980s, the Illinois police in their efforts to tackle the cocaine epidemic ran after the Chicago’s drug runners. The first people to be associated with cocaine trafficking were the young males of Latino origin who were later apprehended but did not offer enough information on the crime. The police came up with a profile of the drug runner who was a young male of Hispanic origin and who appeared most of the time to be confused. This was followed by drug enforcement agency coming up with the same strategy. Consequently, they were able to seize 989,643 kg of narcotics by the year 1999 using profiling technique. However, during the operation, many Latino men who were innocent were either stopped by traffic police, searched and others arrested wrongly (Kareem, 2010).

In regards to this, Amnesty International argues against the practice stating that the practice is not effective especially when used to stop people on highways, on suspicion that they may be drug couriers. The organization supports its claims by citing the 1999 survey which was conducted by the Department of Justice. The survey found out that although the police focused on African American drivers, drugs were found on 17% of white drivers and 8% of black drivers. A similar survey that was conducted in New Jersey revealed that most blacks were stopped and searched but drugs were found on 25% of white, 13% black and 5% Latino drivers. Another study that was carried out by Lamberth Consulting indicate that when the law enforcers do not use racial profiling and instead focus on the behavior of the suspect, the rate of productivity in regard to searches would be raised by 300% (Kareem,2010).

In the year 2001, President Bush promised to ask the attorney general of that time to come up with recommendations that would end the practice. He was quoted saying that, “It is wrong and we will end it in America.” Although some people claim that it does not exist in America, statistics and stories that document it show that the practice is a reality on the ground (Callahan & Anderson, 2001). For example in the year 2000, in the efforts to bring to an end the growing of Marijuana in National Forest found in California’s Mendocino, the forest rangers were given the order to stop all the vehicles and interrogate the Hispanics  irrespective of whether they had pot in their vehicles or not. A report that was released after the 1999’s anti drug effort by the group Chad Thevenot indicated that 76% of all the motorists that had been stopped by Maryland’s Special Traffic Interdiction Force (STIF) along a stretch of 50 miles were African Americans.  This shows that the minorities are the ones who have more potential of being stopped than the whites. Moreover, they are more likely to have their cars searched willingly (Callahan & Anderson, 2001).

Some people have defended this practice by saying that it is a very sensible technique used by the police where the law of probability is used to attack crime and which is more efficient since there are scarce resources to tackle crime. Some have also said that since the police would be concentrating on the blacks, then they would be able to uncover many criminals and crimes, making them to be successful in their careers. George Will in a Washington post of April 19th said that the practice is fine so long as it is just (Callahan & Anderson, 2001).

Pros of racial profiling

The police in America are doing a good job in fighting crimes and making the country to be safe for everyone. The crime’s report by FBI that was released in May 1999 shows that the rate of serious crimes in 1998 had gone down in the U.S and this was for the seventh year running with a decline of 7% in 1997. Moreover, those who had benefited most were the African Americans. This is because their inner cities which were once inhabitable due to drug dealers and thugs, lives were made stable and returned to normalcy, thanks to the police. This success is attributed to racial profiling (Malley, 1999).

Cons of racial profiling.

One of the hardest things at the moment is to convince the political leaders that the practice is “politically incorrect” and “racially insensitive.” Moreover, it is destructive, ineffective and ill-conceived technique of law enforcement. The first con of racial profiling is that it does not work. Many people hold onto the myth that it really works especially when used by police officers. Some argue that if they do not use it in the civil right’s name, then they would be tying their hands behind them. All these are myths and not facts. A lawsuit led to the uncovering of police data which indicated that although 73% of black suspects pulled over between the years 1995 and 1997, they were less likely to carry illegal weapons and drugs while driving than the white suspects (Head, 2010). Another study carried out by public health service indicates that 70% of all drug users in the United States are white, 15% blacks and 8% Latinos. In contrast to this, report by Department of Justice indicates that those who are imprisoned in relation to drugs include 45% of African Americans, 26% whites and 21% Latinos (Head, 2010). A report that was released in 2005 by Missouri Attorney General showed that the practice is ineffective. It proved that many white drivers that had been stopped due to their suspicious behaviors were found to be transporting illegal materials, including drugs. In addition, the blacks were mainly stopped and searched in a way that was similar to racial profiling. When the practice was used, most of the time the officers ended up wasting time since they only caught innocent suspects (Head, 2010).

The second con is that this practice makes the law enforcers use less useful approaches in combating crime and thus distracting them. When the police apprehend suspects on the grounds of their suspicious behavior and not race, they end up catching more suspects. The third reason why racial profiling should be discouraged is that it prevents law enforcers to serve the whole community. The officers are supposed to protect all citizens who are law abiding from the criminals. When they start to use the practice, it conveys a message that whites are the most law abiding citizens while the other minority groups such as the blacks and the Latinos are criminals. The policies related to racial profiling make law enforcers become number one enemies of the whole community especially those that are affected disproportionately by crime. This is quite ironical especially since the law enforcers are supposed to protect the victims of crime and assist them to find justice (Head, 2010).

The fourth reason is that this practice is a hindrance towards the efforts of making the community corporate with the law enforcers. It has been proven beyond doubt that community policing works in contrast to racial profiling. If the community has a good relationship with law enforcers, then they are more likely to report crime incidences, volunteer as witnesses of crime and also be instrumental when it comes to investigations. However, racial profiling tends to discriminate and thus alienate the Latino and black communities and consequently, it hampers the efforts of law enforcers to investigate crimes in the two communities. Through this practice, there would be no rapport or trust between the law enforcers and residents of black and Latino’s neighborhoods and thus the two would not see eye to eye, making community policing in the two communities a science, in other words difficult (Head, 2010).

Moreover, the practice violates the fourteenth amendment which states clearly that, “no state may deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” In this regard, the definition of ‘racial profiling’ proves that the practice entails unequal protection of individuals. The two communities of blacks and Latinos are less likely to be treated as citizens who are law abiding and are more likely to undergo search by law enforcers. On the other hand, the probability of the whites to be treated as citizens who are law abiding is high and they are less likely to be searched. This is not parallel with the rights to equal protection (Head, 2010).

The sixth reason against racial profiling is that it may lead to violence which may be racially motivated. This is because it encourages law enforcers to use evidence of low standard against the blacks and Latinos, a practice which does not apply to the whites. Consequently, the police, armed citizens and private security may decide to violently respond in an attempt to defend selves. This happened in a case involving Amidou Diallo, an African immigrant and unarmed. He was sprayed with 41 bullets while he was in the process of showing the officers his driving license. This is just but one case. Most of the time, many deaths of innocent and unarmed suspects of Latino or African origin have been reported (Head, 2010).

Lastly, profiling on basis of race is not morally upright. This practice encourages segregation in the society. It also makes all the blacks and Latinos feel as second class citizens. It is also a form of prejudice. When the American community encourages this practice to take place, then in other words, they are encouraging discrimination to take the upper hand.

In conclusion, it has emerged that racial profiling has very few pros with very many cons. Moreover, many human rights organizations are against the practice and thus the practice should be done away with since it does not have a place in the modern United States of America.


Callahan, G. & Anderson, W. (2001).The roots of racial profiling: Why are police targeting

minorities for traffic stops? Retrieved from http://reason.com/archives/2001/08/01/the-roots-of-racial-profiling

Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. (2010).CHRGJ launches documentary ‘Americans

on hold’, exposing discrimination. Retrieved from http://www.chrgj.org/projects/profiling.html

Head, T. (2010).Why racial profiling is a bad idea: Top 7 arguments against racial profiling.

Retrieved from http://civilliberty.about.com/od/lawenforcementterrorism/tp/Against-Racial-Profiling.htm

Kareem, N. (2010). The case against racial profiling. Retrieved from


Kareem, N. (2010). The case against racial profiling. Retrieved from


Malley, L. (1999).Pro and Con: Racial profiling or good police work? Retrieved from



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