Police Racial Profiling: Better Research Needed


With racial profiling in the news after black scholar Henry Louis Gates’ arrest in his home in Cambridge, Ma., criminologists are calling for better research to determine the extent of the problem and how to remedy it. Several experts discuss the issue in a new edition of the Criminology & Public Policy Journal edited by Florida State University.”It may be better to abandon the term racial profiling and instead focus on racial bias generally,” says criminologist Alex Piquero of the University of Maryland. He noted that racial profiling may be difficult to define precisely, what with the “unconscious stereotypes” that may be involved.

In the same issue, Patricia Warren of Florida State University and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey of the University of Massachusetts Amherst dissected the case of racially biased policing alleged in the North Carolina State Highway Patrol in the 1990s. News media accounts played a role in building political pressure to pass a state law that increased monitoring of the highway patrol, the authors found. They suggested more police oversight boards including civilians as a way to evaluate police practices. Also in the journal, David Harris of the University of Pittsburgh wrote that police themselves should be regarded as reform advocates. Harris noted that after policy changes in North Carolina, officers found more drug contraband when they “focused more tightly on which people presented actual behavioral clues indicative of potential wrongdoing rather than those who fit a profile that includes race or ethnicity.” Journalists may access the journal, a publication of the American Society of Criminology, by going to its Web site and using the ID reporter and password policy.

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