Police Profiling - Crime Tool or Hidden Racism?


Profiling occurs everyday in America. Some have called it a crime fighting tool in which police officers target potential criminal offenders based upon what they believe to be determinates of who will commit what sort of crimes. While it is not commonly admitted, is

that these determinates are usually based upon the racial origins of the person that is being questioned. Potential victims of profiling are not limited to a single skin color either. Over the course of American history profiling has evolved. During World War II profiling was used against Asian Americans and continues today as a bias that was handed down to a new generation. Profiling has also been used in southern states where illegal immigration plays a vast role in the perceptions of people. Hispanic Americans are singled out due to narrow minded beliefs that they have hopped the boarder and are in America to cause trouble. After the September 11th attacks profiling was soon implemented into airports around the country to supposedly aide in determining possible suspects of terrorist activity, which points the finger directly at Middle Eastern decedents. Most commonly profiling is used in inner city communities with high populations of African Americans. Police pull over cars with black drivers only due to the fact that they are black. A spin off name of this is Driving while Black, which pokes fun at the police for not being able to find any better reason to pull a car over than due to the race of the driver. However, it is important to remember that profiling can happen in any community and is based upon the biases of that region influencing the way that police do their jobs.

With profiling comes a great deal of community concerns. Profiling reflects a racial bias in America and tarnishes the years of struggle that the civil rights movement has attempted to eliminate. This narrow justification of singling out certain races for police attention can also lead to other criminals being neglected. Police are asked to limit their definition of what makes a criminal and therefore can overlook obvious signs that they should suspect someone else of the activity. For example, in an inner city environment, police may target African American teenagers are being the most likely to join gangs and lead a criminal life. They may then not think twice about a white female living in the area that carries drugs between connections. Profiling also effects the community as a whole because members begin to feel that the police are the enemy and will refuse to cooperate with police. Citizens may also refuse to call police when they are in trouble or see criminal activity because they feel that the police will not listen to them. The tension that is created between officers and the community is a broken trust that will take years to fix.

There is some justification for profiling. Police do use it as a tool for limiting suspect pools in the effort to prevent crime. While their intentions may have started out good, profiling can turn into something far more sinister. The need to protect the community is the top priority of every police department and profiling can lead to officers finding criminal activity based upon data collected from the area. It is just a sad fact that a great deal of the time this data reflects into skin color.

Profiling is not something that can be solved by finger pointing and debate. What must happen first is for the federal government to adopt reform policies on how their agencies conduct investigations when dealing with minorities. Local governments and police departments can then determine their own policies based upon the federal ones. There also needs to be put into place a monitoring system that tracks every stop in detail of the reasons why and the race of the person being questioned by police. By making themselves aware of how much profiling affects their daily activities as officers, the police will be more sensitive to trying to prevent it. All officers should remember that race is never the only reason that someone may be a criminal.

Profiling is a reminder of bias in America that needs to be prevented from continuing. While it may be a valuable tool for the police, there is no excuse why anyone should feel that they are being singled out due to their skin color. Profiling in American promotes racism and strips the country of all the progress that civil rights have attempted to secure for all citizens. Only as a combined force can the police, community and government prevent profiling from continuing to be a dark stain on a great country.

Raterman, Max T; “Investigating profiling-related complaints” from the Police Department Disciplinary Bulletin. Oct. 2002

Page, Clarence. ;“WHEN RACIAL TENSIONS BOIL OVER” from the Chicago Tribune. 15 Apr. 2001

Wilgoren, Jodi; “Police Profiling Debate Hinges on Issue of Experience vs. Bias” - from the New York Times 9 Apr. 1999

Additional Resources

Carter, David Ph.D and Katz-Bannister, Andra Ph.D, Racial Profiling: Issues and Response for the Lansing, Michigan Police Department. (December 2000) Lansing Police Department.

Mac Donald, Heather, The Myth of Racial Profiling. (2001) City Journal.

American Civil Liberties Union, Sanctioned Bias: Racial Profiling since 9/11. (February 2004) ACLU

Article Outline
Topic: The Use of Police Profiling (Proposal)
Thesis Statement: Profiling in American promotes racism and strips the country of all the progress that civil rights have attempted to secure for all citizens.

I. What is Racial Profiling? [Explaining the Issue]
A. Police stop people of color due to believing that a certain race or ethnicity determines a greater chance of criminal activity.
B. Victims of Profiling.
1. African American communities in the inner city
2. Hispanic citizens in southern communities.
3.Asian Americans during WWII and continued today.
4. After 9-11 used against Middle Eastern Americans
5. Can influence any community based on the bias of that region.

II. Concerns of Profiling
A. Reflects a racial bias in America
1. Years of civil rights is tarnished by profiling
B. Profiling can lead to narrowing ideas of criminals
1. By profiling police subject a specific race to being pointed out as possible criminals and may miss the fact that other races in the same area have the same possibility of committing crime.
C. Effects on the community
1. Profiled citizens feel singled out and may look down upon the police that are meant to protect them.
2. Creates tension between officers and the community

III. Justification for Profiling
A. To limit suspect pools, to prevent crime
1. Profiling is a tool that police use to protect the community.

IV. What should be done about profiling?
A. Monitoring system
1. Collects data about each stop including the race of the person being detained and the reason so that when questioned about the stop police officers have a record of it.

B. Federal government needs to reform their policies and set the stage for what local governments and police departments will do.

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