The Case for Racial Profiling

by Robert J. Meadows
Arizona’s new immigration law has pushed the issue of racial profiling to the forefront. Detaining someone based solely on race is ethically wrong and a potential civil rights violation. There is no argument about that. But profiling is not based on race alone. Behavior, dress, geography, age, sex and other factors are also considered.

Crime analysis units in police departments profile crimes based on a number of variables. The FBI profiles serial killers, most of whom are white males, and other violent offenders to aid in their investigations. Airport security officers use profiling. In the professional world, profiles are used, either subjectively or objectively, to meet employment objectives, admissions standards at schools and other goals.

One of the arguments against the new Arizona immigration law is that it will promote racial profiling. However, the law makes it clear that race is not the sole criteria for detaining someone.

The law states that a violation, such as a traffic offense, must occur before someone is detained. Yet, despite the wording of the law, opponents, including Attorney General Eric Holder, who admitted he had not read the law when he first denounced it, argue it will promote profiling.

Many are on a campaign to boycott anything to do with Arizona. Many politically correct naïve politicians pandering for votes are predicting that the law, which hasn’t gone into effect yet, will somehow lead to mass discrimination by Gestapo-type Arizona cops. Maybe the popular North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park should be closed in protest, or possibly relocated to a more politically correct state.

Profiling by race and other factors is justified by law and policy. Consider this scenario: An unidentified male has repeatedly attempted to lure young girls who are walking near a middle school into his vehicle. Potential victims consistently describe the predator as a white male with shoulder length hair and a dark mustache.

He reportedly is driving an older, dented black or dark-colored van with no side windows. Does this provide cause for a police officer to stop and detain a person fitting this description? What if the wrong person was stopped, but the description very similar? Is this due to profiling an unlawful detention?
Citizen reports of victimization are based on descriptions of suspects that include race, age, dress and other features, and we expect police to reasonably act upon these reports. We further expect the police to act with cause in stopping anyone. In a 1999 New York Times article, then-Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, who is black, said that racial profiling “is playing the percentages” and is “common sense.”

Courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, are not against profiling as long as race is only one factor in a generalized approach to questioning of suspects. Supreme Court decisions on “stop and frisk” searches and arrests have reflected this view.

Gang injunctions are another example where race is a factor in enforcement. Many cities, including sanctuary city Los Angeles, employ gang injunctions. A gang injunction is a restraining order against a group. It is a civil suit that seeks a court order declaring the gang’s public behavior a nuisance.
Known gang members are subject to arrest if they violate the injunction in ways such as being where they should not be or practicing gang behavior. Race is obviously one criterion for determining gang membership as well as dress, age and the use of gang hand signs.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department website, there are currently 37 active injunctions in the city involving 57 gangs. Reportedly, the injunctions are successful in curbing gang violence, although there are allegations of unjustified detentions through profiling.

Is this the same town where the City Council, which includes former police chief Parks, voted to boycott the Arizona law because of the potential for racial profiling? Gangs and violent crime are serious problems in Los Angeles as in many other cities.

It is a fact that most of these gang members are young minority males and many are illegal. According to the 2009 National Association of Chiefs of Police report, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested nearly 2,000 gang members and gang associates in the Los Angeles area in 2008. Of the 1,970 gang members taken into custody that year, more than 850 were prosecuted criminally on state or federal charges, ranging from re-entry after deportation to weapons violations.
In Arizona, illegal immigration is a problem associated with a number of crimes. The illegal immigration problem in Arizona flows from south of the border, not Northern Europe, so it stands to reason that race is one factor to consider. Profiling by race or other criteria can be misapplied and unjustified, but in many instances profiling is used to achieve a number of legitimate and utilitarian purposes.

If profiling is unjustifiably used in Arizona or elsewhere, there are legal remedies for the victims. It is a matter of common sense.

— Robert J. Meadows, Ph.D., chairs the Criminal Justice and Legal Studies Department at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. E-mail him at [email protected]

Published July 24, © 2010 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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