Racial Profiling and Officer Bias

Racial Profiling and Officer Bias




The maintenance of law and order is an important responsibility for law enforcement agencies. These institutions are equipped to execute their mandate in a professional manner as well. Similarly, the judicial system in the county is one of the most advanced in the world and thus focuses on the efficient delivery of justice. However, the presence of racial divides in the nation has led to the emergence of different stereotypes for the various races. Furthermore, these tendencies have resulted in the application of racial profiling by police officers. While this tactic may lead to the capture of a few offenders, it is illegal and has been widely condemned by many citizens due to the infringement of their rights.

Racial Profiling and Officer Bias


            As a democracy, the United States prides itself in the superiority of its constitution as well as the institutional capacity to implement it. Furthermore, the citizens exhibit an awareness of their rights regardless of their occupation or income levels. However, despite the display of a united front internationally, racial divisions exist within its borders. In particular, the black community feels alienated on most spheres of life and blame whites for their woes. Moreover, they single out law enforcement agencies as being intentional in their pursuit and characterization of criminals as being black. This notion has led this minority group to believe that they are unfairly targeted by police officers due to the stereotypical thinking that only blacks can be involved in criminal activities. While they cite illiteracy as a motivating factor for doing such vices, poverty has been identified as the driving force in most neighborhoods (Withrow, 2011). Nevertheless, some people have tried to change this perception but vast majorities of people believe that the criminal justice system is skewed to portray minorities, especially blacks as criminal elements, which sometimes leads to the arrest, incarceration, or death of innocent victims.


            Under racial profiling, police officers decide to use the ethnicity or race of an individual as the reason to make an arrest or order a traffic stop. Thus, they use their own beliefs about that background to inform their judgment without considering any evidence of wrongdoing. As part of this culture, the age, mode of dressing, time of day and the geographical location of a suspect are also considered. Consequently, young people wearing hooded clothing and viewed to be in the wrong community especially in the evenings are easily identified as criminals by police officers. This behavior is evident by the large number of minorities present in the prison system as well as the frequency of them being pulled over. As such, it is a widespread occurrence, which has become part of the daily fixture in most cities. It has also caused growing tensions between victims and law enforcement personnel.         

Dealing with General Crime

            In most police circles, there exist certain preconceived opinions about specific ethnicities (Thruman & Zhao, 2004). Based on the frequency of some crimes and the cultural background of the people responsible for them, police officers do make assumptions that such offences are committed by members of the same lineage. Hence, this criterion is used to condemn such citizens as offenders. For example, random traffic stops can be conducted aimed at searching the personal effects of various blacks who are young due to the perception that they are more affiliated to crime thereby warranting more attention. During such stops, there is no particular crime being investigated. Rather, the officers would like to conduct background checks to see whether the victims have any previous criminal record because they regard them as suspicious members of the society. It is a common practice that some people find offensive and an affront to their civil liberties due to the unnecessary intrusion of their normal lives without any clear motive from the officers.

Targeting Perpetrators of a Specific Crime

            When a crime occurs, it is usually examined in order to determine the likely suspects. In these instances, the type of offense and the available evidence are analyzed for signs of similarity with other misdemeanors. Once this has been concluded, a comparison is made about the resemblance of the offenders as well. Thus, a bias emerges towards a specific ethnic block (Walsh & Hemmens, 2014). For instance, when a bombing takes place, the immediate reaction of the authorities is to look for any nearby person with a Middle Eastern appearance. This view stems from the fact that most radicals who execute terrorist attacks originate in the Middle East. By so doing, when the alert to apprehend any suspect who fits this description is given, even law abiding citizens who match this image may find themselves in the crosshairs (Glover, 2009). In fact, they may be physically harassed or mentally tortured into providing coerced confessions yet their only fault is belonging to the Muslim ethnicity. Cases of these blanket characterization of Muslims as terrorists are rampant and have caused agony to many families who claim that their loved ones disappeared soon after being taken by detectives. It is an emotionally draining experience as well since people with an Arab origin live in constant fear of the authorities as well as the backlash that may arise from fellow citizens when such events happen.

Apprehending Suspects of an Ongoing Crime Wave

            In other cases, the police are quick to follow the advice of a few bystanders who claim to have witnessed an offence being committed. This is despite the fact that they have not yet assessed their informants to verify the authenticity of such information. As a constitutionally bound body directed to serve and protect the rights of all citizens, they are supposed to handle such situations professionally and not make hasty decisions that may be later justified as an oversight. However, when it is reported that people of a certain race may be behind the spate of crimes, there is a tendency of officials linking isolated incidents with a pattern of felonies in the area. Moreover, they could base their arguments on a local gang that is majorly comprised of particular races. This correlation leads to the search for members of the racial demographic in the region in a manner that exposes other inhabitants to unpredictable risks (Withrow, 2006). Sometimes, others may attempt to resist or retaliate because they consider themselves innocent and this marks a turning point in the whole encounter. While this situation would force the officers to respond to the rebellious nature, the victims are filled with rage due to the harassment meted out on them despite their innocence. Consequently, they consider it illegal and immoral to be molested by virtue of belonging to a race with a bad reputation without the due process being followed. However, whereas their anger is justified, the manner of expression is not because they could be in violation of other laws as well. Their reaction is contrary to the scriptural teachings in Leviticus 19:18 that urge people not to retaliate for any wrongdoing.

Catching specific yet Unidentified Individuals of a Crime

            Witness accounts form a valuable part of information gathering tactics. As such, it is possible for various survivors of a crime such as serial rape to have their impressions of the aggressor. When asked about his physical appearance, the race will be mentioned. Consequently, men who conform to the sketch and image generated by forensic experts are always picked for either questioning or further investigations. This is another example of racial profiling since race becomes the dominant reason for one to be branded a potential suspect. Whereas this approach would facilitate the quick seizure of the criminal, its haphazard application does not guarantee the freedoms of all subjects. A combination of characteristics should be drafted and police officers warned against rushing into conclusions during searches to enhance the accuracy of their findings.  

Catching a Fugitive

            Whenever dangerous criminals are on the run, law enforcement officials do not hesitate to circulate their characteristics. Among the features touted is the race of the individual because that would make him easily identifiable (Harris, 2002). Within the force, there are trigger-happy officers who would like to be recognized as heroes for locating him/her. This results in a tense situation across different jurisdictions due to the inherent threat of a mistaken identity encounter. In most instances, this affects minorities, as they are perceived to be more prone to violence and makes them vulnerable to being arrested or shot. By so doing, an escalation of the level of mistrust occurs. This could spiral into other dangerous trends. In fact, it scares potential informants from volunteering advice for fear that they could be seized.

Implications to Criminology

            Racial profiling has infiltrated the criminal justice system and it threatens the freedoms of the victims. This occurrence has gained traction in many civil cases despite the presence of a law prohibiting the practice. According to the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the Department of Justice has been authorized to sue police agencies that exhibit unconstitutional patterns of behavior in their course of their work. Similarly, the Fourth Amendment is clear in its assertion that no one should be subjected to arbitrary arrests or searches as well as offering direction on the need to respect people’s privacy (Kops, 2007). Thus, the above conduct by police officers is discriminatory and in violation of these laws. In addition, it reveals the hypocrisy of these departments whereby they break the same legislations that they are meant to enforce. In fact, this illustrates that such bodies lack the moral authority to execute their mandates because they cannot be trusted by the minority in the society to champion their causes. In contrast, they are viewed as partisan outfits used to oppress innocent civilians based on issues beyond their control (Bireda, 2010)

            Similarly, the above subject is vital in criminology because its practice hampers the delivery of justice to many people. Having established that a sizeable number of Hispanics, Latinos and blacks are wrongfully detained, tried, and even sentenced, it is possible that many inmates of this descent do not deserve to be incarcerated. Furthermore, it proves that sometimes prosecutors rely on concocted evidence and lies to incriminate defendants by hinging their accusations on the race factor. This strategy goes against the tenets of fairness and makes the judicial system to lose credibility while infringing upon the rights of the accused. In An ideal situation, solid evidence should be used to prove someone’s guilt in a crime rather than the falling prey to racial stereotypes to determine his/her culpability. In fact, since criminology emphasizes the need to use factual evidence over circumstantial one, the widespread propagation of this illegality indicates that the system is broken and needs to be reformed.

            Moreover, it erodes the confidence that people have in the judiciary (Glover, 2009). The court system, as an arbiter of last resort, should be beyond reproach. However, with the existence of racial profiling in the security sector and aided by a corrupt judicial system, minority groups would be disillusioned with ever receiving equal and fair treatment as their white counterparts. As such, they would be reluctant to cooperate with the police yet this is an integral process in the development of a network of informants. Such a scenario complicates the work of arresting and successfully prosecuting cases thereby endangering the lives of many civilians. Likewise, it is a waste of time and resources especially when the cases proceed to trial. Due to the modern technological advancements, forensic evaluations have become useful in reconstructing crime scene activities. Their adoption during cross-examination is a testament of the value of such input in offering insight to the circumstances surrounding any offense. Nevertheless, the rush to parade suspects in courts purely on racial grounds results in the acquittal of such individuals once proper alibis have been given and accepted by the judges (Alexander, 2005). By so doing, proceedings of other cases are derailed, as is justice for the victims lodging the complaints. Thus, it would have been prudent for the law enforcement officers to use legally recognizable methods for apprehending suspects because these could be sustained in a court of law rather than depend on the above strategy.

            Furthermore, it weakens the veracity of judgments rendered in various courts. The proceedings of any case are usually recorded in order to give the judge ample material to use when formulating sentences. Likewise, the court’s verdict is not discarded so that it can be used as a source of reference for future cases (Siegel & Senna, 2005). Where racial profiling has been identified, the ruling is not considered authoritative by peers. Hence, it is not cited as a source of guidance on how similar lawsuits should be handled. This derails the long held tradition of comparing sentences that leads to a narrow-minded approach to such issues. It also stifles the development of prosecutorial procedures as well. Officer bias denies them the chance to apply proper investigative techniques necessary in building and sustaining a case. Rather, it provides them with an easy route to apprehending suspects but places them at a disadvantage when making presentations due to the possibility of being accused of using trumped up charges. As such, the prosecutor lacks the intellectual capacity to launch and maintain indictments thereby limiting his/her exposure to acquiring such skills. This then affects his/her performance in subsequent cases.

Application in a Real World Context  

            On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman at night in Sanford, Florida. While the former was an African American, the latter was a Hispanic but categorized as a white. At the time, Zimmermanwas on neighborhood watch in a gated community when he claimed that Martin approached him wearing a hooded sweater. On challenging him to stop, an altercation ensued and unfortunately, the unarmed Martin was fatally wounded by Zimmerman. Amid the public outcry for prosecution, the trial begun after six weeks had elapsed. In the course of the case, the police department defended Zimmerman’s actions, as being legitimate since his opinion about Martin’s dressing was consistent with the stereotypical view of gang behavior among blacks. Hence, it emerged that young people who wear hooded sweaters with saggy pants and are of African American descent are likely to be lawbreakers and armed (Hess & Orthmann, 2009). This opinion formed the bulk of Zimmermann’s defense although it enhanced the rift between the two communities. Since it was not an isolated case, it is evident that police officers had developed a systematic analogy of various races and their affinity to criminal activities. It is plausible then to believe that most of the arrests they make in certain sections of neighborhoods are racially motivated and this angers the targeted cultures.

            Recently, an unarmed black teenager was shot in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer. On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson under controversial circumstances. According to some reports, Wilson ordered Brown and a friend to move onto a sidewalk from the street when there was an altercation that led to the firing of a shot from the patrol car. As Brown and his friend fled, Wilson gave chase and fatally shot Brown multiple times despite the latter raising his hands above his head in surrender. This case has elicited heated mixed reactions because the residents are predominantly black while the police department has a white majority. Furthermore, members of the community have revealed the reckless nature of the officials in dealing with crime in the area and a pattern of heavy handedness towards blacks appears. This incident parallels the one above since the officer exhibits an assumption of bad behavior on Brown due to his race and that facilitated the use of deadly force. It signifies a misconstrued and biased idea that only blacks can be offenders. Therefore, the ire that this episode has raised is justified because it brings to the fore the fundamental racial conflict involving the police and different ethnicities nationally.


            National security has become a staple term since the events of September 11, 2001. Several federal and local law enforcement agencies have been tasked with making the country and its citizens safe. Whereas these personnel are duty bound to keep people protected, they belong to various ethnic backgrounds and are inclined to believe the stereotypes peddled in the society. In particular, a majority of this workforce has shown a disdain for minorities and associate them with delinquent habits that occur in the cities. Thus, this culture has become integrated into their daily routine thereby making them to abandon constitutionally outlined processes when doing patrols or conducting various operations. By applying racial profiling, they are undermining the civil liberties of the victims and crippling the delivery of justice. While this trend is known in different neighborhoods, the sudden death of minorities under controversial circumstances at the hands of law enforcement personnel serves to highlight their plight (Siegel, Welsh & Senna, 2006). It also exposes this practice to the national psyche thereby reenergizing the debate. The acknowledgement of racial divisions within the country should not be used as an excuse for trampling on people’s rights. Consequently, an overhaul of the judicial system needs to be done to avoid the crowding of cells with innocent people. In addition, the biasness that officers have towards certain races has to be contained to prevent an escalation of racial strife. Furthermore, the series of acquittals of individuals accused of racial profiling serve little to quell the unrest seen I different communities. This portrays an image of complicity between the police and the justice department yet these people should love everyone in the community as per the spiritual instructions in Mathew 22: 39. It would be helpful to counter this perception through the inclusion of transparency in their operations in order to facilitate the building of a perfect union as envisaged by the Founding Fathers.  


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Bireda, M. (2010). Cultures in Conflict: Eliminating Racial Profiling. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Glover, K. (2009). Racial Profiling: Research, Racism, and Resistance. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

Harris, D. (2002). Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling cannot Work. New York: New Press.

Hess, K., & Orthmann, C. (2009). Introduction to Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Kops, D. (2007). Racial Profiling. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.

Siegel, L., & Senna, J. (2005). Introduction to Criminal Justice. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Siegel, L., Welsh, B., & Senna, J. (2006). Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Thurman, Q., & Zhao, J. (2004). Contemporary Policing: Controversies, Challenges, and Solutions: an Anthology. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Pub.

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Withrow, B. (2006). Racial profiling: from Rhetoric to Reason. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Withrow, B. (2011). Racial Profiling Controversy: What every Police Leader should know. Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law Publications.

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