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Criminal Profiling vs Racial Profiling

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3766 words Published: 18th Jul 2018

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Racial profiling is a social problem that has erupted throughout the country. Many provinces, cities, social groups, and academics have studied racial profiling and how race and ethnicity may play a part in police investigations.

Allegations of racial profiling have been around for years, and still is a subject that creates a lot on media hype and controversy surrounding police and their interaction with minorities. In Toronto, there have been numerous newspaper and television articles accusing the Toronto Police Service of systematic racism (Canadian Race Relations Foundations, 2005).

Racial profiling should not be confused with criminal profiling, because they are two different things (Mucchetti, 2006, pp. 1-32). Racial profiling is not specific to one race or one country. Actually being racially profiled can happen to anyone at any time no matter what race or sex or country they live in.

This paper will examine racial profiling and criminal profiling by police and explaining how the different sociological perspectives; functionalist, conflict, interactionist, and feminist perspectives view it. The paper will also attempt to argue if there is systematic racial profiling by the Toronto Police. My thesis is the Toronto Police does not systematically racially profile, instead they systematically criminally profile.

In order to examine racial profiling and criminally profiling one must understand the differences between the two. Although there is no clear or universal definition of racial profiling, there is a common component in all of the definitions (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2009). This paper defines racial profiling as “the practice of targeting racial minorities for criminal investigation solely or, in part, on the basis of their skin colour” (Court of Appeal for Ontario, 1999).

According to the Harvard Latino Law Review, criminal profiling involves:

The use of racial or ethnic characteristics by police departments in stopping an individual because his or her description matches that of an actual suspect. In this sense, race functions as the equivalent of hair color or height, which can then be used in combination with other factors to paint a more accurate portrait of a suspected criminal. As a result, generalized notions of criminal propensity are not projected onto an individual because of that person’s membership in a particular racial or ethnic group (Mucchetti, 2006, pp. 1-32).

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The term racial profiling began in the 1980s, when the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the United States developed and used common characteristics to profile drug couriers as part of the agencies “war on drugs” (Harris, 2006, pp. 213-239). When community members began to complain about police investigations and their actions towards minorities the uses of the profiling technique emerged to be labelled as ‘racial profiling’ (Ibid).

Functionalist, conflict, interactionist, and feminist perspectives all believe racial profiling is one of discrimination, pressure and manipulation of subordinate groups so that the dominant group can exercise their social class, race, and sexual superiority over others (Banks, Eberhardt, & Ross, 2006, pp. 1169-1190). Prejudice in racial profiling is caused by psychological and socially constructed influences, where individuals are influenced by their surroundings to hate another solemnly based on their race (Guimond, Dambrun, Michinov, & Duarte, 2003, pp. 697-721).

The functionalist perspective believes society is divided into two groups, the dominant and subordinate. And, that these groups are a natural part of society (Kendall, Nygaard, & Thompson, 2011). Functionalist also believe society is not balanced in terms of race, because it is natural for one group of people to be superior over the other and that racial equality will reduce the dominate group power on subordinate group (Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, 1988, pp. 1331-1387). Therefore, functionalist view racial profiling as being formed by dominate groups to cause the subordinate groups to feel inferior, so they can have their own roles in society because it is how society intended it to be.

Conflict perspective believe that all groups in society are engaged in a continuous power struggle because the dominant groups who have social, political and economical power, struggle to maintain their privileged position over the subordinate groups (Kendall, Nygaard, & Thompson, 2011). Conflict theorists also believe everyone is equal, despite his or her race, sex or employment, opposed to the functionalist theory (Ibid). They also believe racialized and ethnic inequality is caused due to economic stratification (Ibid). The dominate group determines what laws should be enforced and what penalties are to be administered. They also determine what subordinate group will be targeted, arrested and punished unfairly in order to maintain their positions in a capitalist society. The police are used as a tool by the dominate group to maintain their position in society. Racial profiling by police is only one of the methods used by police to enforce the rules of the dominate class.

Symbolic interactionist perspective can be used to explain officer’s behaviour which is based in social psychology (Kendall, Nygaard, & Thompson, 2011). The social dynamics involving the interaction between officer and citizen may influence officer’s behaviour and cause them to racially profile. The interactionist approach emphasizes how racialized socialization contributes to feelings of solidarity with one’s own racialized or ethnic group and hostility towards others (Ibid) which could cause citizens to challenge officers’ authority if they felt their identities were being challenged, their civil liberties were being restricted, or the officer was acting in a rude behaviour. Although symbolic interactionist perspective does not directly explain why police initially stop minorities, it does explain the social interaction between the officer and citizen and how it could result in the citizen feeling of being racially profiled if the officer’s interaction was professional.

Feminist perspective is based on critical-conflict perspective (Kendall, Nygaard, & Thompson, 2011). A feminist view on racial profiling is about gender and race differences, and the limitations associated with traditional male-dominance in society. There is no one feminist perspective that can explain a social problem such as racial profiling because all are theories of oppression, differences, and inequality (Ibid).

Social activist groups along with minority groups claims’ of systematic racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service exists and refer to published articles to support their claims, such as the 2002 series of newspaper articles written by the Toronto Star, and the lack of racial statistics compiled by the Toronto Police Service. In these articles, the Toronto Star articles used empirical data collected from the Toronto Police Service’s Criminal Information Processing System (CIPS) database. According to the newspaper articles that examined 480,000 files contained within the database, relating to arrest and traffic stops, claim “Blacks arrested by Toronto Police are treated more harshly than white…”, and “a disproportionate number of black motorists are ticketed for violations that only surface following a traffic stop. According to civil libertarians, community leaders and criminologists, the difference could suggest that police use racial profiling in deciding whom to pull over” (Toronto Star Newspaper, 2009, p. A01).

Social and minority groups also support their claims of systematic racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service, as the Service does not collect or release race base statistics. They argue “One fears that the only reason the Police Board refuses to release this data is to ensure that the public does not get updated information on racial profiling” (Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, 2008).

This paper concedes that racial profiling may exist on an individual basis (micro-level) within the Toronto Police Service. This was confirmed by Chief Blair of the Toronto Police Service who was speaking a diversity conference and said: “Racism is a human failing. Racial profiling can occur. We’ve acknowledged that right up front…” (Doolittle, 2009).

As a police officer, it is obvious that there are errors in the Toronto Star’s conclusions. The Toronto Star compiled its’ data using the files contained in the CIPS database, which only contained files relating to arrest and tickets issued to persons. The problem using only this database is that it does not take into account the number of people the police actually investigate where there were no arrest or tickets issued, or the fact that the CIPS system excludes information on part 1 Provincial Offences tickets; i.e. seatbelt, speeding etc. as it only includes part 3 Provincial offences tickets (more serious offences). By only selecting the CIPS database and not the true number of persons stopped by police skewed the final results. Professor Edward B. Harvey, a PhD, from the University of Toronto confirmed this fact that the Toronto Police database, which was not designed for research purposes, contains so many flaws that its uses in research is limited (Harvey, 2003).

The data-collection by the Toronto Star was also disputed by Allan Gold based on the distinction between reactive and proactive policing (2003, pp. 391-399). Gold argues reactive policing could attribute to claims of racial profiling while proactive policing will not. When it comes to the collection of data, the Toronto Start uses both styles of policing which flawed their conclusion (Ibid).

It is very well known that any and every methodology in the social sciences is open to criticism and attack (May, 2001). Max Weber a pioneering sociologist and social researcher stresses the importance of proper methodology in social research in examining any social problem, and how crucial it is to understanding the problem (Alasuutari, 2010, pp. 139-155). The Toronto Star’s article and how they used the data and the omission of vital data has skewed the final results. These errors have created false evidence of systematic racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service, which has been proven.

The argument of race based crime statistics date back to 1929 (Johnston, 1994, p. 166). Social activist groups along with minorities group’s have argued that the reason Toronto Police Service is not releasing race based crime statistics is due to the that the Service in fact racially profiling, which would be proven by the statistics (Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, 2008). In fact in 1989 the opposite argument was used by community groups when then Inspector Julian Fantino released crime based statistics, claiming them to be inherently racist calling for their abolishment (Johnston, 1994, p. 166).

According to Robin S. Engel an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati and Director of the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute,

Data will never ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ racially biased policing, we contend that vehicle stop data collection and analysis should never be viewed-either by police or resident stakeholders-as a pass fail test. Rather, it should be viewed as a diagnostic tool to help pinpoint the decisions, geographic areas, and procedures that should get priority attention when the agency, in concert with concerned residents, identifies its next steps for addressing the problem or perception of racial profiling (2008, pp. 1-36).

Institutional racism “consists of the day-to-day practices of an organization that have a harmful impact on members of a subordinate group” (Kendall, Nygaard, & Thompson, 2011) and delivered at the macro-level. In order for the argument of systematic racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service to be true, the Service would have to have policies or procedures in place that sanctioned it. In fact, the Toronto Police Service does not sanction any form of racial profiling by its members. The Service has numerous rules and procedures that prohibit racial profiling along with a Diversity Management Unit that monitors all human rights complaints and ensures that all members provide a bias-free service to the community (2009). Members of the Toronto Police Service are also being constantly reminded their responsibility in providing a bias-free service to the community. These reminders are done through training and education, the Services Core Values and letters to the members of the Service, such as a letter written in 2003 by then Chief Juilian Fantino who wrote;

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…we must be aware that social and institutional pressures can lead to unacceptable instances of racial bias in policing. Police officers must make their decisions to engage the public based on the actions or conduct that they observe, on actual witness information and/or on hand evidence. Police officers must have articulable cause or reasonable grounds in order to pursue legitimate law enforcement activities with a member of the public. We must not make any decision to stop, question and/or search citizens based solely on a person’s race. All of us, at all times, must provide equitable and respectful service to all persons regardless of race.

I believe that the best way to deal with this and all other issues is simply by always treating people, all people, professionally. Let’s continue to treat all people and each other with dignity and respect. Professional conduct means that we will never go wrong or be found wanting in our dealings with all components of our diverse society (Toronto Police Service, 2003).

To ensure that members of the Toronto Police Service are not racially profiling the Toronto Police Service is working in partnership with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to ensure the Service’s hiring practices reflect the diversity of the City of Toronto, training officers in ethics, and diversity and how to recognize racial bias policing (2009)

Although the Toronto Police Service does not systematically racially profile, they do systematically criminally profile.

Criminal profiling also known as Criminal Investigative Analysis (CIA) is an effective tool enabling law enforcement agencies to enforce the law more effectively (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). The origins of criminal profiling can be traced back to 1800s when it was first used in case to identify Jack to Ripper (Winerman, 2004, p. 66). The current use of criminal profiling by law enforcement was developed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in the United States by their Behaviour Science Unit (Ibid). The uses of this technique has also with stood the threshold of law and been recognized as a valid investigative technique.

Criminal profiling involves a multidisciplinary approach that examines and understands criminal behaviour using many sociological perspectives. Functionalist perspective view crime as a result of the lack moral order within a society which is necessary to hold society together (Kendall, Nygaard, & Thompson, 2011). Conflict perspective suggests that disadvantage groups are more likely to become criminals than those who are privileged. It also sees higher-income citizens being able to hide their criminal acts better and punished differently then disadvantage groups, if caught. Symbolic interactionist perspective helps us understand how people learn to become criminals and how being labelled a ‘criminals’ can increase the probability that the person will engage in criminal behaviour (Ibid). Each perspective traces criminal behaviour to social conditions rather than to the individual’s race, sex, ethnicity or disability.

Criminal profiling can be broken into two stages; the first could be described as general profiling and the second as specific profiling (Palermo, 2002, pp. 383-385). General profiling is part of an officer’s everyday duties and investigations of any crime, such as traffic stops, while specific profiling is more refined in the officer’s approach to evidence and crime scene investigations (Ibid).

Criminal profiling can also take on several forms. The first form of criminal profiling can be institutional, which is where the organization develops the profile of the offender, while the second for can be formed by the individual officer. This form of criminal profiling is developed by the officer from his or her own experiences (Higgins & Gabbidon, 2009, pp. 77-88).

In today’s policing, Toronto Police Service front-line officers incorporated the general profiling aspect of criminal profiling when performing their general duties but will on occasion incorporate specific profiling aspects when responding to a serious radio call. The officers will also use both institutional and individual forms of criminal profiling as well.

A basic form of institutional criminal profiling is taught to members of the Toronto Police Service when he or she attends the Ontario Police College as a basic recruit. The recruits are provided the necessary knowledge of laws, procedures and skills that will help them perform their duties as frontline officers. With emphasis on the core function of police services found in the Ontario Police Service Act section 4(2) which focuses on Crime Prevention, Law Enforcement, Assistance to Victims of Crime, Public Order Maintenance, and Emergency Response (2009). The officers are also provided training a variety of subjects including, ethics, anti-racism and community policing (Ibid). The training does not stop when a officer leave the Ontario Police College, the officers are further trained at the Toronto Police College in the Services’ Rule and Procedures, Core Values and Mission Statement of the Service along with officer safety training.

Officers develop individual criminal profiling skills when they start patrolling the streets of Toronto. The officer will respond to thousands of calls varying from thefts, domestics, fights, to vehicle stops. Each time the officer interacts with the individuals, he or she develops their own brand of policing and individual criminal profiling techniques.

In community policing, officers work closely with problem communities, in developing strategies to help the community combat crime. Working with the community, officers receive information from residences on potential criminal activities and individuals within the community, so that they can develop strategies to reduce crime. Officers will incorporate all aspects of criminal profiling to either be reactive or proactive in an attempt to reduce criminality.

Being reactive, officers focus their attention on direct information that is received from the community to reduce the current problem within the community, while proactive policing allows the officers to profile activities and individuals within the community to prevent further victimization.

Officers also use criminal profiling when they perform traffic stops. The officer use individual criminal profiling when he or she selects an area to monitor the traffic flow, which is based on the officer’s personal experience. The officer might select an area where there is a high rate of incidences of failing to stop at a sign or a section or roadway where vehicle speed. When the officer decides to stop the vehicle for a violation of the Highway Traffic Act, he or she again criminally profiles the vehicle and occupants for officer safety reasons. The officer will conduct registration checks on the vehicle and the registered owner, all the time observing the occupants of the vehicle before stopping the vehicle, in order identify any criminal activity. This part of criminal profiling it taught to the officers by the Ontario Police College and the Toronto Police College (institutional criminal profiling) as part of the Officers Safety Section within both colleges, in order to keep the officer safe.

There are those who argue that criminal profiling is not supported by scientific evidence and should be dismisses as rhetoric and never be used. This paper agrees that criminal profiling is limited in empirical data but is still a useful tool to combat crime. According to a research study which states, “criminal profiling will persist as a pseudoscientific technique until such time as empirical and reproducible studies are conducted on the abilities of large groups of active profilers to predict, with more precision and greater magnitude, the characteristics of offenders (Snook, Eastwood, Gendreau, Goggin & Cullen, 2007, pp. 437-453).

In conclusion, it is important to rethink racial profiling through the lens of criminal profiling and to reduce race to the role that it is purportedly playing in racial profiling, namely a predictive factor; to treat race no differently than we would gender, class, age, or any other profile that works; to take the focus away from race and place it on criminal profiling more generally. Rethinking racial profiling through the lens of criminal profiling actually sheds light on police practices.

The Toronto Police Service does not systematically racially profile as the media, social and minority groups would have us believe. In order for the Toronto Police Service to be blamed for systematically racially profiling, the Service would have to be a plan or procedure in place to support it. The Toronto Police Service does not support any form of racial profiling by it members

Criminal profiling plays a crucial and significant role in deterring and combating criminal behaviour and activity. Criminal profiling provides a valuable tool for police in which they can assess and analyze the patterns of criminal behaviour (Turvey, 2008, pp. 1-43).

The Toronto Police Service systematically criminally profiles and treats the race component of criminal profiling no differently than they would gender, class, age, or any other profile that works.


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