Racial Profiling Doesn't Work

May 15, 2001

Little attention has been paid to the fact that racial profiling just doesn't work, say David Cole and John Lamberth. Cole is author of "No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System." Racial profiling studies uniformly show that police stops yield no significant difference in so-called hit rates -- percentages of searches that find evidence of lawbreaking -- for minorities and whites. If blacks are carrying drugs more often than whites, police should find drugs on the blacks they stop more often than on the whites they stop. But they don't.

  • In Maryland, for example, 73 percent of those stopped and searched on a section of Interstate 95 were black, yet state police reported that equal percentages of whites and blacks who were searched, statewide, had drugs or other contraband.
  • In New Jersey, searches in 2000 conducted with the subjects' consent yielded contraband, mostly drugs, on 25 percent of whites, 13 percent of blacks and only 5 percent of Latinos.
  • A study of stop-and-frisk practices in New York City in 1998 and 1999 found that while police disproportionately stopped young black men, the hit rates were actually marginally higher for whites than for blacks or Latinos.
  • And while 43 percent of those searched at airports by the Customs Service in 1998 were black or Latino, illegal materials were found on 6.7 percent of whites, 6.3 percent of blacks and 2.8 percent of Latinos.

Race and ethnicity are simply not useful criteria for suspicion. A generalization linking race or ethnicity to crime will therefore inevitably sweep in many innocent people. And police will miss guilty people who don't fit their stereotypes.

Source: David Cole (Georgetown University Law Center) and John Lamberth (Temple University), "The Fallacy of Racial Profiling," New York Times, May 13, 2001.

 

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