Racial profiling

Racial profiling

Racial profiling refers to the use of an individual’s race or ethnicity by law enforcement personnel as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in enforcement (e.g. make a traffic stop or arrest). The practice is controversial and is illegal in some nations.



The concept of racial profiling has been defined in many ways, including:

  • "Any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal activity." -Deborah Ramirez, Jack McDevitt, Amy Farrell for US DoJ[1]
  • "Racially-biased policing occurs when law enforcement inappropriately considers race or ethnicity in deciding with whom and how to intervene in an enforcement capacity."-Lorie Fridell, Robert Lunney, Drew Diamond and Bruce Kubu[2]
  • "Using race as a key factor in deciding whether to make a traffic stop." -General Accounting Office[3]
  • "In the literature to date, there appear to be at least two clearly distinguishable definitions of the term 'racial profiling': a narrow definition and a broad definition... Under the narrow definition, racial profiling occurs when a police officer stops, questions, arrests, and/or searches someone solely on the basis of the person's race or ethnicity... Under the broader definition, racial profiling occurs whenever police routinely use race as a factor that, along with an accumulation of other factors, causes an officer to react with suspicion and take action."-Jim Cleary[4]
  • "Use by law enforcement personnel of an individual’s race or ethnicity as a factor in articulating reasonable suspicion to stop, question or arrest an individual, unless race or ethnicity is part of an identifying description of a specific suspect for a specific crime." -Office of the Arizona Attorney General[5]

In the United States


At a Federal level, racial profiling is challenged by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to be safe from unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause and the Fourteenth Amendment which requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law.

In his February 27, 2001, address to a Joint Session of Congress, President George W. Bush declared, Racial Profiling is "wrong, and we will end it in America. In so doing, we will not hinder the work of our nation's brave police officers. They protect us every day -- often at great risk. But by stopping the abuses of a few, we will add to the public confidence our police officers earn and deserve."[6]

On February 28, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft said "This administration... has been opposed to racial profiling and has done more to indicate its opposition than ever in history. The President said it’s wrong and we’ll end it in America, and I subscribe to that. Using race… as a proxy for potential criminal behavior is unconstitutional, and it undermines law enforcement undermining the confidence that people can have in law enforcement."[6]

In June 2003, the Department of Justice issued its Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies forbidding racial profiling by federal law enforcement officials.[7]

In June 2001, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Office of Justice Programs, United States Department of Justice, awarded the Northeastern research team a grant to create this web-based Racial Profiling Data Collection Resource Center. It now maintains a website designed to be a central clearinghouse for police agencies, legislators, community leaders, social scientists, legal researchers, and journalists to access information about current data collection efforts, legislation and model policies, police-community initiatives, and methodological tools that can be used to collect and analyze racial profiling data. The website contains information on the background of data collection, jurisdictions currently collecting data, community groups, legislation that is pending and enacted in states across the country, and has information on planning and implementing data collection procedures, training officers in to implement these systems, and analyzing and reporting the data and results.[8]

Several U.S. states now have reporting requirements. Texas, for example requires all agencies to provide annual reports to its Law Enforcement Commission. The requirement began on September 1, 2001, when the State of Texas passed a law to require all law enforcement agencies in the State to begin collecting certain data in connection to traffic or pedestrian stops beginning on January 1, 2002. Based on that data, the law mandated law enforcement agencies to submit a report to the law enforcement agencies' governing body beginning March 1, 2003 and each year thereafter no later than March 1. The law is found in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure beginning with Article 2.131. [9] Additionally, on January 1, 2011, all law enforcement agencies began submitting annual reports to the Texas State Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education Commission. The submitted reports can be accessed on the Commission's website for public review. [10]


Many in the law enforcement community argue that although unfortunate, the use of ethnic and racial profiling is both effective and necessary. The argument is made that due to socio-economic and demographic factors as unfortunate and undesirable as it might be, crime is simply higher in some communities that have a large minority population and that to ignore that fact due to a sense of moral integrity would be both morally and professionally wrong. As an example, an airport interdiction task force at Los Angeles International Airport compiled a report of those arrested based solely on officer observations, and when that report was compared to one of those arrested based on alerts driven by the airline passenger alert computer system the percentages were almost identical. Examples such as these support the conclusion that although factors such as race may be taken into account, it does not necessarily indicate that a prejudicial bias is present.

If the success of law enforcement is defined as identifying and taking action against violators, then racial profiling would allow officers to be more effective. [11]

A majority of Americans support profiling as necessary "in today's society".[12]


Critics of racial profiling argue that the individual rights of a suspect are violated if race is used as a factor in that suspicion. Notably, civil liberties organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have stated that racial profiling is a form of discrimination, stating, "Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality or on any other particular identity undermines the basic human rights and freedoms to which every person is entitled." [13]

Critics argue that individuals should not be more or less likely to encounter law enforcement officers or other government agents based on racial or ethnic traits.

Responding to such criticisms are local community groups who seek to collect data, analyze trends and how they might correspond to public perceptions of profiling, and solicit ideas aimed at diminishing cultural and racial biases. [14]

In practice

  • Despite promises to the contrary before the September 11 attacks in 2001, racial profiling surged during the presidency of George W. Bush, coinciding with the initiation of the War on Terror. Claims of profiling have been particularly focused on Naturalization, Customs, and Border Patrol agents accused of making Muslims' entry or re-entry into the United States more difficult and pressure-laden than that of their peers. According to a 2011 report from Brown University, this sort of profiling has been encouraged in public discourse by political TV personalities like Bill O'Reilly.[citation needed]
  • The airline ticketing agent who checked in Mohamed Atta, the leader of the September 11 attacks, and a companion, would afterwards say that looking at the pair his first reaction was to think, "If this doesn't look like two Arab terrorists, I've never seen two Arab terrorists." But he immediately felt guilty, and had no legal grounds to search on the basis of their suspicious appearance had he wished to.[15]
  • In December 2001, an American citizen of Middle Eastern descent named Assem Bayaa cleared all the security checks at Los Angeles airport and attempted to board a flight to New York. Upon boarding, he was told that he made the passengers uncomfortable by being on board the plane and was asked to leave. Once off the plane, he wasn't searched or questioned any further and the only consolation he was given was a boarding pass for the next flight. He filed a lawsuit on the basis of discrimination against United Airlines. United Airlines filed a counter motion which was dismissed by a district judge on October 11, 2002. In June 2005, the ACLU announced a settlement between Bayaa and United Airlines who still disputed Bayaa's allegations, but noted that the settlement "was in the best interest of all".[16]

Empirical evidence

For motor vehicle searches academic research showed that the probability of a successful search is very similar across races. This suggests that police officers are not motivated by racial preferences but by the desire to maximize the probability of a successful search. Similar evidence has been found for pedestrian stops, with identical ratios of stops to arrests for different races.[11][17]

In other countries


Accusations of racial profiling of visible minorities who accuse police of targeting them due to their ethnic background is a growing concern in Canada. In 2005, the Kingston Police Service released the first study ever in Canada which pertains to racial profiling. The study focused on in the city of Kingston, a small city where most of the inhabitants are white. The study showed that black skinned people were 3.7 times more likely to be pulled over by police than white skinned people, while Asian people were less likely to be pulled over than whites or blacks.[18] Several police organizations condemned this study and suggested more studies like this would make them hesitant to pull over visible minorities.

Although aboriginal persons make up 3.6% of Canada's population, they account for 20% of Canada's prison population. This may show how racial profiling increases effectiveness of police, or be a result of racial profiling, as they are watched more intensely than others.[19]

In February 2010, an investigation of the Toronto Star daily newspaper found that black people across Toronto were three times more likely to be stopped and documented by police than white people. To a lesser extent, the same seemed true for people described by police as having "brown" skin. This was the result of an analysis of 1.7 million contact cards filled out by Toronto police officers in the period 2003 - 2008.[20]


In one case in 1999, Mexican highway officers pulled over an African Mexican man suspected of being an illegal immigrant from Central America or Cuba. He was forced to sing the Mexican National Anthem to prove his residence.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Ramirez, McDevitt, Farrell. "A Resource Guide on Racial Profiling Data Collection Systems". US Department of Justice. http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/184768.pdf. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  2. ^ Fridell, Lunney, Diamond and Bruce Kubu. "Racially Biased Policing: A Principled Response". http://www.racialprofilinganalysis.neu.edu/background/glossary.php. 
  3. ^ "Racial Profiling: Limited Data Available on Motorist Stops". General Accounting Office. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/gg00041.pdf. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  4. ^ Cleary, Jim. "Racial Profiling Studies in Law Enforcement: Issues and Methodology". http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/raceprof.pdf. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Report on Racial Profiling". Office of the Arizona Attorney General; Civil Right Division and Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. http://www.azag.gov/law_enforcement/racial%20profiling.PDF. Retrieved 2010-05-11. 
  6. ^ a b "DOJ Racial Profiling Fact Sheet". United States Department of Justice. June 17, 2003. http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2003/June/racial_profiling_fact_sheet.pdf. Retrieved November 18, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Threat and Humiliation: Racial Profiling, National Security, and Human Rights in the United States". Amnesty International USA. 2007. http://www.amnestyusa.org/racial_profiling/report/index.html. Retrieved November 18, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Racial Profiling Data Collection Resource Center". The Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University. 201. http://www.racialprofilinganalysis.neu.edu/index.php. Retrieved March 31, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Racial Profiling Report". City of New Braunfels, TX. 2001. http://www.ci.new-braunfels.tx.us/index.aspx?NID=828. Retrieved March 31, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Texas Law Enforcement Agency Racial Profiling Reports Submitted to TCLEOSE". Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. 2010. http://www.tcleose.state.tx.us/content/racial_profile_reports.cfm. Retrieved March 31, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b Knowles, John; Persico, Nicola; Todd, Petra (February 2001). "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence". The Journal of Political Economy 109 (1): 203–29. doi:10.1086/318603. JSTOR 3078530. 
  12. ^ http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/november_2011/60_say_profiling_necessary_in_today_s_society
  13. ^ http://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/racial-profiling
  14. ^ Baird, Joel Banner. Vermont Group Readies Racial Profiling Report Burlington Free Press January 20, 2011. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  15. ^ "Man Says Charity Donation Led to Federal Probe; Gate Agent Relives 9/11 Mistake; Midwest Mom by Day, Cyberspy by Night". Paula Zahn Now. CNN. February 18, 2005. Transcript. Retrieved on November 18, 2010.
  16. ^ "ACLU and United Airlines Announce Settlement of Case on Behalf of Plaintiffs Assem Bayaa and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee" (Press release). American Civil Liberties Union. June 17, 2005. http://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/aclu-and-united-airlines-announce-settlement-case-behalf-plaintiffs-assem-bayaa-and-a. Retrieved November 18, 2010. 
  17. ^ Mac Donald, Heather (June 25, 2010). "Fighting Crime Where the Criminals Are". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/26/opinion/26macdonald.html?ref=opinion. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Police stop more blacks, Ont. study finds". CBC News. May 27, 2005. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2005/05/26/race050526.html. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Aboriginal people over-represented in Saskatchewan's prisons". Statistics Canada. http://www41.statcan.ca/2006/2693/ceb2693_002-eng.htm. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  20. ^ "When good people are swept up with the bad". Toronto Star. 2010-02-06. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/761551--when-good-people-are-swept-up-with-the-bad. Retrieved July 29, 2010. "When good people are swept up with the bad - We're not trying to make any excuses for this. We recognize that bias in police decision making is a big, big issue for us, and so we're working really hard on it." 
  21. ^ http://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/comm/csj/042800/gimeno.html


Jeff Shantz. 2010. Racial Profiling and Borders: International, Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Lake Mary: Vandeplas).

Ronald Weitzer and Steven Tuch. 2006. Race and Policing in America: Conflict and Reform (New York: Cambridge University Press).

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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