The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines racial profiling this way:
"Racial Profiling' refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual's race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. Criminal profiling, generally, as practiced by police, is the reliance on a group of characteristics they believe to be associated with crime. Examples of racial profiling are the use of race to determine which drivers to stop for minor traffic violations (commonly referred to as "driving while black or brown"), or the use of race to determine which pedestrians to search for illegal contraband (ACLU, 2009, online)."
In a recent Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the Court ruled that, ". . . In most circumstances, law enforcement officials cannot rely on ethic appearance as a factor for deciding whether to stop someone suspected of a crime," and went on to say, "because of the growth in the Hispanic population on the region (the San Diego, California area), ethnicity was an irrelevant criterion for law officers to stop a person, unless there was other very specific information identifying the suspect (Carmen, 2007, p. 148)."
Cases that are predicated on race alone often do not withstand the challenge of defense attorneys as regards probable cause and reasonable suspicion. The Supreme Court defines probable cause as more than a "bare suspicion (p. 75)."
Rather, the Court has said, that probable cause is established by "the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge of which they had a reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed (p. 75)."
The question then becomes one of: What is reasonable cause? The courts and law enforcement rely upon court precedents to ensure that probable cause and the test of reasonableness in the traffic stop and/or arrest is met. To understand if that has occurred, the courts look to the information and events leading to the actions taken by law enforcement (Maryland v Pringle, 540 U.S. 366 (2003) (p. 76). The practical interpretation by the courts of probable cause is that the observations and the information upon which the officer or officers act in searching individuals and seizing evidence is based on a 50% certainty that a crime has been or is being committed (p. 77). Probable cause (and reasonable suspicion which holds the same 50% certainty criteria) prevent law enforcement from being accused of using racial profiling as the basis for their actions in enforcing the laws.
As an individual who hopes to pursue a career in criminal justice and law enforcement, I view racial profiling as an unacceptable tool of enforcing law. Racial profiling is a violation of individual Constitutional rights, and it goes beyond criminal justice, to social justice. We are a society that strives for equality of the people, regardless of race or cultural traditions.
The information presented here is in brief, and there is a much broader discussion on racial profiling, the Fourth and Sixth Amendments, and society's efforts to eliminate bias and prejudice in law enforcement. As someone hoping to pursue a career in law enforcement, I view racial profiling as a waste of effort and resources in bringing criminal offenders to justice, because it would exclude the evidence from being considered by the courts and juries, and it would only assist criminals in achieving their trafficking in illicit drugs and criminal goals.
The community places its trust in its law enforcement personnel. Utilizing racial profiling as a tool for making arrests does not facilitate good community relations. More so than ever before, we see the racial composites of communities representing diverse racial and cultural populations. It is the responsibility and duty of all law enforcement personnel to perform the duties of their work in a way that represents the population as a whole. That should be the commitment of law enforcement to the communities they serve.
ACLU (2009). Racial Profiling Definition (11/23/2005), found online at http://www.aclu.org/racialjustice/racialprofiling/21741res20051123.html, retrieved October 23, 2009.
Del Carmen, R. (2007). Criminal Procedure: Law and Practice, Thomson Wadsworth.
Johnson Jr., a. (2009). The re-emergence of race as a biological category: the societal implications -- reaffirmation of race, Iowa Law Review 94(5), 1547-1588.