Racial Profiling

Racial profiling by law enforcement is commonly defined as a practice that targets people for suspicion of crime based on their race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. Creating a profile about the kinds of people who commit certain types of crimes may lead officers to generalize about a particular group and act according to the generalization rather than specific behavior.

Racial profiling can cause multiple problems. Several law enforcement agencies have gone through expensive litigation over civil rights concerns. Police-citizen relations in those communities have been strained, making policing all the more challenging. Most importantly, racial profiling is unlikely to be an effective policing strategy as criminals can simply shift their activities outside the profile (e.g., if racial profiling begins with police stopping black males in their teens and twenties for being drug carriers, criminals may start using other demographic groups — such as Hispanics, children or the elderly — to move drugs).

Despite training to avoid discrimination, officers may still rely on cultural stereotypes and act on their perceptions of a person's characteristics (such as age, race or gender).

Date Created: January 10, 2013