Racial profiling – stopping and questioning individuals based strictly on their race or ethnicity – is in most cases illegal. It is also easy to allege but difficult to prove in individual cases. Two episodes in Arizona brought problems with racial profiling to the fore, says the Arizona Republic. The police agencies involved were left paying out settlements, implementing new training measures, and overhauling their procedures to fend off similar claims in the future.
The term “racial profiling” didn’t appear in the pages of the Republic 1998, in a story about an incident involving New Jersey State Police. By then, the potential for profiling was well-known in the Phoenix area because of a 1997 immigration sweep in low-income Chandler neighborhoods. A joint operation of Chandler police and U.S. Border Patrol agents resulted in the arrests of 432 undocumented immigrants. It also caught in its snare hundreds of legal immigrants and U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent. The five-day operation drew criticism from the Hispanic community that it was racially motivated. In 2001, racial profiling again was the focus of a class-action lawsuit after 11 motorists accused state Department of Public Safety officers in northern Arizona of targeting minority drivers for traffic stops and searches.