Racial Profiling

Roger Dunham and Jeff Rojek

in Criminology

ISBN: 9780195396607
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Racial Profiling

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One of the most significant problems facing all societies, and American society in particular, is the use of race as a criterion in official or governmental decision making. If police officers use race inappropriately as a criterion in professional decision making, it is called “racial profiling” or “racially biased policing.” More specifically, racial profiling denotes the practice of targeting or stopping an individual based primarily on his or her race rather than more appropriate suspicious characteristics or behaviors. In the research literature on racial profiling, writers identify the general issues and concepts that frame concerns and claims about racial profiling, and tie in relevant theories and research on racial prejudice. In recent years, the practice of racially profiling individuals in automobiles has led to the “Driving While Black” (DWB) phenomenon and has attracted considerable attention from the media, civil rights groups, and political leaders. Consequently, public proclamations have condemned the practice of racial profiling, without really understanding its history or implications. Prior to the 1990s, the term “racial profiling” had little meaning to the general public. However, during that decade racial profiling had become a dominant concern in American society generally and in political circles specifically. The “war on drugs” promoted profiling for routine enforcement activities but resulted in an increased concern over racially biased policing. This initial profiling came at a time when crime indices were falling and the decline in crime was being attributed to the aggressive policing strategies that targeted quality-of-life infractions and traffic violations. Many police departments responded to the claim of racial profiling by strongly denying its existence. However, no agency had statistical data to defend its denial. Since the late 1990s, many police departments have undertaken the effort to collect data on their officers’ behaviors that might indicate racial profiling. Recent statistics show that more than four hundred agencies have collected traffic stop data, and twenty-three states have passed legislation that requires racial-profiling studies. Racial profiling is a complex problem involving human rights issues that is relatively new to law enforcement but nonetheless is a longstanding American concern.

Article.  6446 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Criminal Justice ; Criminology

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