Examining Whether Policing Is Racially Biased Criminology Essay

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Is policing racially biased or is it a product and/or nature of the business for dealing with crime ridden areas? Explain your answer in detail. Racially biased policing is just another term for racial profiling. Racial profiling is typically defined as the police use of race as the sole basis for initiating law enforcement activity (e.g., stopping, searching, and detaining a person) (Ramirez, McDevitt, and Farrell, 2000). Does racially based policing occur? Yes it does, but I believe that there are times when racial profiling or racially biased policing is justifiable. "Despite a recent flurry of studies of racial profiling during traffic stops, there are no reliable estimates of how many stops are motivated entirely or largely by the driver's race"(Weitzer and Tuch, 2006, p. 74). The problem is knowing when it is justified and when it is not. First, however, knowing what racial profiling is does not necessarily allow you to know when it occurs.

"Justification for police action requires the presence of "suspicious" behavior or low enforcement information that leads the police reasonably to conclude that a specific person is engaged in or is about to engage in criminal behavior"(as cited by Gabbidon and Greene, 2005, p. 194). There are cases where police say the evidence they had available is what caused them to stop a particular person when in fact that was not the actual reason they stopped that person. Insofar as racial bias is an internal psychological motive, it is, in particular cases, often difficult to prove or identify. In some cases a policeman may not know him/herself whether s/he was operating under a bias or made a legitimate deduction. Nevertheless, it is important to know what constitutes racially/ethnically biased policing. Also, one cannot tell merely from certain kinds of police encounter statistics (though one might have a reasonable suspicion) whether the police are targeting people based on racial motives. Police patrols in, for example, black neighborhoods would obviously more likely afford more police encounters with black citizens than with white citizens. And, if for some reason, some ethnic group was more likely than any other to commit certain infractions or if there were more crime in some kinds of neighborhoods than others, it would follow that the percentage of police encounters involving that group's members would be higher than their percentage in the population. For example, it might turn out that white collar crime is primarily a white male type of activity. Or if white males have far more access than others to positions that would allow white collar crime, then it would be reasonable for white males to be charged with such crimes in a higher percentage of cases than the white male proportion of the population in general. In order to see that police are biased in their policing, one would have to see that they do not treat people equivalently under legally relevant similar situations. If police officers ignore white or white male speeders they see but stop and ticket black or female drivers going the same or even slower speeds, then that is grounds for believing the officers are policing on a gender or racial bias.

Biased policing is policing that gives preferential treatment to some races, genders, or ethnic groups or that essentially harasses or punishes members of those groups which are disliked or considered to be suspect just because of their race, gender, or ethnicity even though they do not fit a description of anyone who is committing crimes or who has committed a crime.

It is my contention, however, that it is not racially biased policing, and it is not a bad form of racial profiling, for police to initiate properly proportional measures on the basis of race or ethnicity in those cases where race, gender, or ethnicity narrows the possible suspect list in a properly proportional way for the seriousness of the crime or infraction at issue. Let me explain.

First, the general principles are (1) it is not bias if the race, gender, or ethnicity of the individual descriptively narrows the search for a suspect to the same degree, under the circumstances, as would any other characteristic, such as a description of clothing or the make and color of a car, or the first three license plate numerals; and (2), more serious (potential) crimes, and/or (potential) crimes with worse consequences or harm, require less descriptive narrowing of the field of possible suspects than do less serious or less harmful (potential) crimes. And (3) less intrusive or damaging police activities require less descriptive narrowing of the field of possible suspects than to more intrusive or harmful police activities. Within a certain reasonably narrow range of probabilities (depending on the seriousness of the crime and the seriousness of the police intervention), and only within this range of probabilities, this becomes a matter of judgment, experience, subconscious perceptions and deductions, and even to some extent intuition.

As mentioned in the above sentence parenthetically, there are at least two factors to be considered in judging whether the probability is sufficient for police activity to be warranted. The greater the seriousness or magnitude of harm of the (potential) crime in question, the less the probability should need to be in order to justify police action. And the less intrusive or less potentially damaging in any way the particular police action is, the less the probability should need to be to justify it. In other words, whatever the proper range of probability is to justify police actions against a person who fits any kind of description, whether racial/ethnic or otherwise, that range should be narrowed or expanded commensurate with the seriousness of the crime and with the invasiveness and potential harm of the police actions.

In order to be morally justified on the basis of the description (whether ethnic, racial, gender, or otherwise in any way), the seriousness of the police activity should be commensurate with the seriousness of the crime and the probability that the description available in a given environment identifies the alleged perpetrator being sought. The courts can set those parameters, and probably different courts will have slightly different intuitions for them. But there is no reason to believe that a merely ethnic, racial, or gender description is always insufficient cause for any police activity at all.

In the wake of the magnitude of the Arab and/or Islamic attacks, and threats of (further) attacks on the United States, the above would indicate that in certain environments some police or security activity is justified in being suspicious about at least Arab or Islamic men of a certain age range in certain places, even though Arabs complain (Lynch, Patterson, and Childs, 2008). But the nature and scope of the activity needs to be commensurate with the probability that any such person is an actual terrorist under the circumstances, and also commensurate with the magnitude of the harm that might be caused if they are. Clearly if racial profiling would be ineffective, there is no point in using it, but it is far from clear that it is any less effective in catching or deterring (potential) criminals than would be any non-racial, non-ethnic description, trait, or action which narrows the probability of detecting the actual perpetrator by the same degree.

2. Should police department demographics match the demographics of the community they serve? Why or why not? List some of the problems that occur when trying to reach such a standard.

Diversity is very important in law enforcement. Police depend on the support and assistance of the public, yet members of minority groups tend to view police less favorably than their white counterparts. Because of the visibility of police officers in communities, a diverse agency publicly displays its commitment to equal treatment in law enforcement. Diversity in the ranks can also help make personnel more sensitive to the use of racially or ethnically offensive language in casual as well as public conversation. In terms of recruitment and selection, police agencies have the potential to reduce racial bias by hiring officers that reflect the community's racial demographics. "Racial and ethnic diversification is seen, in short, as enhancing both equal justice for citizens and legitimation of the police" (Weitzer and Tuch, 2006, p. 96).

American policing is facing a tremendous challenge-a widespread perception that the police are routinely guilty of bias in how they treat racial minorities. This comes at a time when crime rates have fallen almost everywhere in recent years, and when the police might otherwise be celebrating their contribution to reducing crime and creating safe communities. Instead, the police find themselves baffled and defensive. Racial and ethnic minorities constitute a substantial and growing segment of the U.S. population. Strength is in diversity, and we look to minority communities to participate fully in all aspects of society. Police are now looking to the public for partnerships and collaborative problem-solving solutions to community ills. If substantial segments of the community are the victims of police bias, or even perceive that they are, the likelihood of success is dim. We all know that racial profiling is unacceptable and is at variance with the standards and values inherent in ensuring fair and dignified police response to all. We believe that the vast majority of law enforcement in this country are hard-working men and women who are committed to serving all members of our communities with equity and dignity. Yet the challenges of addressing racially biased policing, and perceptions thereof, clearly indicate that police must do more to address the concerns of minority citizens.

Recruiting minorities for jobs in law enforcement and corrections remains a difficult challenge. Every department benefits from a work force that reflects the racial-ethnic makeup of the community that it serves, but even the most sincere efforts to recruit minority police officers have sometimes met with only marginal success. Police departments, nevertheless, should make every attempt to attain this objective. Communities expect their police officers to carry out their duties with fairness, integrity, diligence, and impartiality. Police agencies must ensure they recruit the best-suited women and men to meet these expectations. In developing a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community served, an agency conveys a sense of fairness and equity to the public; increases the probability that, as a whole, the agency will be able to understand the perspectives of its racial minorities and communicate effectively with them; and increases the likelihood that officers will come to better understand and respect various racial and cultural perspectives through their daily interactions with community members. In this report, we discuss police recruitment and hiring as they relate to the issue of biased policing, providing recommendations for police-community initiatives.