Racial Profiling by Police Officers

Racial profiling refers to the targeting of individuals or particular groups of people by law enforcement officers based on stereotypes about race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or any other factor that isolates the group or individual. It is related to the situations when one is arbitrarily stopped and searched without any grounded reason or in the absence of trustworthy information in regard to the timeframe and locality that warrants the police search. Alternatively, it predicts the probability that a person will engage in the criminal activity based on the assumption of historical evidence associated with his or her affiliation. The individual may not necessarily be related to an illegal scheme or incident; instead, it is a random stop not based on any information that questions the integrity of those mentioned earlier. The current research aims to solve the ethical issues surrounding the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. It will explore the problem and recommend a policy to the state governing body about how this issue should be handled in future. The paper contains a brief review of the relevant facts about racial profiling. It further identifies the major ethical issues and related underlying values of the opposing side. Finally, it makes recommendations for the discontinuation of the policy based on a rationale supporting the stand. 

Racial Profiling by Police Officers

There have been many discussions in the media concerning the ethical standards of the police departments, specifically regarding the practice of racial profiling. These debates are generated in the tense and volatile political environment plagued by the cases of selective police brutality. The argument is based on the supported assumption that prejudice greatly influences decision-making. This practice in its essence defines the invidious use of these stereotypes as a criterion for stopping pedestrians or motorists for search. It is the use of the personal characteristics of people affiliated with various religions, races, or ethnicities to determine who will be subjected to investigation. This policy purposely and intentionally targets individuals. It, therefore, raises questions regarding the principles of the agencies and the goals to be fulfilled. The controversy of the extensive use of the policy highlights the ethical issues surrounding its application. In the long run, its effectiveness in curbing the spread of crimes in the streets may not matter due to the impact of the method. The legality of the practice, impact on the affected populations, side-effects experienced by the rest of the groups, its efficacy in minimizing or preventing crime, and financial cost are the main considerations. The performance of the ideology on these levels determines whether there is a need to continue using it, modify it, or discard it altogether. Racial profiling is a matter of national concern that must be addressed with the immediacy that it requires; in case of failure, it may compromise the legal system as a whole. The debate draws a distinct line between morality and legality, the letter of the law and the spirit of the law; the implication of whatever side creates a convenient policy determines what is ethical.

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Review/Synopsis of Relevant Facts

The policy of racial profiling is impermissible because it violates the liberty and constitutional rights of people. The Supreme Court ruled out the application of profiling as a way of predicting crimes since it does not abide by the statutory clause of equal protection under the law. Nevertheless, the qualification of the term as unsuitable does not in any case restrict dependence of the officers on these typecasts. The law enforcers may consider the characteristics of these groups in terms of the subject description or their relation to the crime investigation if there is a reasonable cause or credible information that the individual is connected to a scheme, organization, or scene. Instead, the word racial profiling defines the law enforcement activities that are premised on the erroneous presumption that a particular group of people is more likely to engage in some unlawful activities than others. The mere fact that history gives a probable cause to think in this line does not validate the assumption. For instance, it is not right to conduct investigations on every individual originating from South Asia because individuals of Middle-East origin were involved in the infamous 9/11 bombings of the World Trade Center. In fact, it is a case of isolating that particular group of people. 

One of the statutory clauses in the Fourth Amendment implies that it is unconstitutional for the police to detain someone without probable cause or reasonable suspicion that he or she was engaged in or supported a criminal activity. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of this clause to some extent permits arbitrary police searches. The pretext for these searches is for the police officers to obtain evidence of criminal activities. While the letter of the law allows them to conduct random searches, the spirit of the law advocates for carrying out of these practices with the intent of looking out for public safety. However, this loophole is exploited by law enforcers with motives other than these, making them rather discriminatory. 

Racial profiling is branded unconstitutional through the express declarations by the government that it is invidious, wrong, ineffective, and potentially harmful to the sustenance of the richly diverse society. In spite of this fact, anecdotal and quantitative data reveal the countrywide exercise of discretionary power by the law enforcers. The practice is pervasive at the federal, state, and local levels. The most victimized segments of the population are the minority groups. For instance, several empirical studies indicate that the police stop a disproportionate number of minorities. The relationship between the ethnic background of a person and the decision to search them is entirely unsubstantial. These vulnerable populations are less likely to receive formal sanctions than their counterparts, meaning that the police use traffic violations as an excuse for searching them. Katheryn Russell-Brown, who is a law professor at the University of Florida, states that the public face of a victim of police injustice is a young Latino or Black person.

Despite the prevalence of such cases, no jurisdiction in the country addresses the issue with the comprehensiveness and seriousness that it requires. As of 2005, only twenty-nine states had passed laws regarding these cases while the federal protection remains grossly inadequate. Forty-six states are silent on racial profiling in terms of religion. Most states use definitions that make it impossible to enforce the bans against the practice. The “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies” issued by the Department of Justice has many loopholes that make it inefficient in addressing cases of profiling. Firstly, its definition does not cover religion and national origin. The guide neither provides mechanisms of enforcing the ban nor the punishment for violating the prohibition. Additionally, it makes an exception for the cases of national security and border integrity. Moreover, the guidance is not applicable to the state and local agencies. There are two distinct contexts in which racial profiling is used by the police: street-level crime and counterterrorism-immigration.

Street-level crime accounts for the highest rate of police searches. Close to 42 percent of contact with the law enforcers is made during traffic stops. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics reports that Black drivers are more likely to be arrested by the police during traffic stops with the rate of 4.5 percent compared to White drivers (2.1 percent). 65 percent of Hispanic motorists stopped by the police received tickets compared to Whites whose rate equals to 56.2 percent. The latter were more likely to be given written warnings (9.7 percent) than their Hispanic counterparts (5.9 percent). Blacks had the highest percentage when it came to traffic stops (9.5 percent). The Whites had a significantly lower rate equal to 3.6 percent. The counterterrorism efforts employed by the agencies singles out people of Arab origin, South Asians, and Muslims. The campaign faces criticism for the application of selective immigration laws for Arab nationals. Furthermore, the implementation of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program explicitly displays the use of profiling. The program requires that individuals predominantly from Muslim countries must register with the federal government, while some of them undergo interrogation. The immigration policies have also been identified to target residents of Hispanic origin. The shifting of responsibility regarding the enforcement of immigration laws from the federal government to state organs and local authorities creates an ambiguity that enables the officers to engage in the discriminatory practice. 

Major Ethical Issues

The federal government is faced with the mounting pressure from critics regarding the racial profiling as a way of preventing crimes. Their arguments regarding ethical objections to the practice are based on the factors of its legality as an instrument of the law, the impact it has on the affected as well as the sidelined populations, the efficiency of the policy in curbing crime rates, and its financial cost. The system is widely branded as unconstitutional. In fact, the Supreme Court declared it unlawful with backing from the statutory clause in the Fourteenth Amendment that guarantees equal protection for everyone under the law. Additionally, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America declares that the residents must not be subjected to unreasonable searches without any grounded reason or in the absence of credible information regarding the connection of the individual to a criminal scheme or activity. Subjecting individuals to investigation due to their ethnic background, race, or religious affiliation is discriminatory and violates the rights of the citizens. It goes against the principles of liberty and freedom, which the rule of law is based on.

The policy lacks a moral perspective. It is a degenerative principle that inhibits the development of a just and liberal democracy. The practice is an implicit way of justifying legal segregation. The adoption of such a practice makes the public question the objectivity of the justice system. It is unfair to assume that ethnic background, religious affiliation, and national origin are solely related to the predictability of criminal activities and the subsequent assessment of the schemes. The explicit use of this policy results in the stigmatization of the society. The minority groups are ascribed certain odious characteristics that make them unwanted members of the community. 

The consequences of the large-scale application of profiling cannot be ignored when invalidating its ethical standards. Firstly, it compels innocent people to bear the strain of having to prove their innocence. The few arrested individuals transfer the burden of thorough investigation to the rest of the population. The policy is associated with the alienation of the community from the general public. Besides, it drives the affected ones to reside in areas where they are inconspicuous thus reinforcing established patterns of segregation. 

Furthermore, the logic of its application fails in terms of its effect on crime rates. While more searches get commissioned for the minorities, the chances of finding contrabands are relatively close to that of their White counterparts. Despite the higher number of contacts that minorities make with the police, the success rates remain low being equal to 11 percent. This finding proves that they are also inefficient and costly. In general, it offers the shorter route for the police in discerning the probability of the crime occurrence by diverting their attention from the real and objective signs of suspicious tendencies that indicate a felony. 

Proponents of the policy argue that the possible measure integrated within the racial profiling is by far more efficient than the post-crime profiling related to addressing crime rates. To some extent, the statistics proves the relation of the police departments to the operations. More often than not, there is a direct correlation between the affiliation to a particular ethnicity and the habit of committing crimes. For instance, the fact that most drug-related crimes are associated with Hispanics and African-Americans justifies the targeting of these groups in the endeavor to curb the felonies. The same relationship is applied in the context of counterterrorism. The underlying presumption in both cases is that specific groups of people commit particular crimes. The strategies to curb terrorism are highly dependent on the infamous 9/11 bombings of the World Trade Center in New York. Similarly, most illegal immigrants belong to the Hispanic ethnic group.

However, the statistical rates give an entirely different perspective. The statistics render the defense of this policy on the grounds of this assumption implausible. Empirical data reveals that the success rates of the searches stand higher among the Whites than the minorities that are presumed to orchestrate the street-level crimes. The association between Arabs and the acts of terror is also misguided. As a matter of fact, most terrorist attacks carried out on the territory of the United States of America were organized by people of White descent or other ethnic backgrounds. For example, Richard Reid tried to bomb a Trans-Atlantic plane in December 2001. He was a British citizen. Notably, the most devastating attack before the 9/11 bombings was an act of terror committed on behalf of Timothy Mcveigh, an American citizen. Moreover, many American citizens belong to the ranks of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups around the world. A perfect example is John Walker Lindh, who is a high-ranking official in the Al-Qaeda group. The profile of terrorists that most agencies have does not fit the reality. The radicalized groups intentionally recruit individuals of western origin to slip through the gaps created by the existing stereotypes. In the context of immigration, the laws are tightened for Arabs and Muslims. They are subjected to selective screening procedures through the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program which requires that Muslim individuals should be interrogated. These programs are discriminatory. However, the Supreme Court holds that the operations do not violate the constitutional rights or undermine the protection of equality for the subjects. As the federal government narrows its focus on this segment of the population, the local authorities and state bodies of security target the Hispanics. Racial profiling, in this context, is permissible under limited circumstances. Nevertheless, this permission does not justify explicit racial profiling against all individuals of similar origin. The overwhelmingly large number of legal Hispanic immigrants in the region negates the demographic indication that most of them are undocumented residents of the United States of America. Another faulty perspective in their argument is the assumption that profiling is useful. This presumption would be valid if it had no racial features added to it. However, the prospective analyses that exacerbate these features cannot be efficient in a society still affected by rac. 


The analysis regarding racial profiling is based on the system of ethical formalism. It is grounded on the logic of an issue rather than its content. The experience is a conscious choice between inclination and duty. Additionally, it is an absolutist system which suggests that if a matter is described as false, it remains so a hundred percent of the times. At the same time, if it is true or right, it will always be considered as such. In short, there are no medium areas in this system; an issue is either right or wrong all the time. It focuses on the moral and formal aspects of the issue. The use of racial profiling is illogical because there is no affirmative reason given in respect to its efficiency despite the explicit violation of fairness. The empirical data does not reveal the minimization of crime rates. The evidence provided on the extent of profiling eliminates the basis of justification for the procedure. The effects of the practice on crime rates are ambiguous but it displays a consistent pattern of violation of the people’s rights it is supposed to protect. Additionally, it has a degenerative impact on the fabric of the society because it threatens to break down the very principles upon which it the nation is founded. It does not divide it as a cost-effective measure whereas its efficacy is highly questionable. The costs of this policy outweigh its benefits by far. Based on this rationale, it is important to make a stand to completely ban its use by the police force as an instrument of preventing the occurrence of crimes. 

The first step to correcting this grave error is legitimizing its prohibition. As described earlier, the only regulation to this practice is the guiding principles provided by the Department of Justice in the “Guidance Regarding the Use by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies”. However, it cannot be used in a legal context because it is a guideline. The Congress should enact legislation that would ban profiling. The statute should become modeled similar to the ERPA 2010, which was the closest the government ever got in addressing all the issues regarding profiling.

The President should urge the Congress to enact the law. Additionally, he should publicly show his support for the enactment of the statute banning the policy. While the matter is pending in the Congress, he should use his executive authority to issue an order that prohibits law enforcement officials at the federal, state, and local levels from engaging in such practices. This creates a need to give the description of profiling used in the ERPA 2010 document; it defines it as the practice of a law enforcement officer that does not depend to any degree on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in the selection of a person to subject to routine or spontaneous investigation.

The “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies” should be reviewed by the Department of Justice to explain the ambiguities and uncertainties, and close the loopholes that get exploited to an enormous extent by the police. It should mention the national origin and religion as grounds of profiling, including the cases of national security and border operations, and making it a part of the intelligence activities of the federal agencies. The Department of Justice should have the exclusive jurisdiction over the immigration services. Moreover, the discriminatory programs should get terminated.


Racial profiling is the targeting of specific individuals by the authorities on the grounds of their personal characteristics rather than their behavior. The police officers take into account the religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, and national origin. This research illustrates the pervasive nature of racial profiling across all levels of security within the nation. It demonstrates the injustice involved in the application of this practice and the devastating impact produced on the people. The policy is ineffective in a fragile society as in the case of the United States of America. The statistics examine the racial element of the prospective analyses conducted by the police force. It has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. It is only wise to ban the practice in a bid to protect the values of the society. It is unethical to integrate the policy in the operations of the law enforcement agencies. There are no intermediary areas in this matter. It is completely false to isolate certain segments of the population from the affairs of security, regardless of the previously acquired statistical data. Therefore, the government should take steps to correct the errors caused by the application of the policy. Racial profiling in the pretext of preventing crimes should be banned by the government.

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