Untangling True Racial Profiling From Other Factors

By: Jason Gibson

Blog Category: Racial Profiling & Traffic Stops

A study done in Cincinnati found that minority drivers experienced longer stops and higher search rates than white drivers.  Looking at this study in a vacuum it could be used to support an argument that these drivers were victims of racial profiling.  However, when researchers compared the data against white drivers who were stopped at the same time, place, and for the same reasons, the differences disappeared.

Identifying the disparity in treatment by police is the easy part.  The difficulty lies in separating the numerous other factors involved in a traffic stop from true racial discrimination.   If there are more police on patrol in a neighborhood with a higher minority population, then logically more minority drivers will be stopped.  Is the higher police presence a result of discrimination or is it in response to increased crime in a certain area?  Studies have shown that seatbelt usage is chronically lower among minority drivers.  When are officers being aggressive in enforcing these types of violations, and when is it due to racial bias?

The use of racial profiling in traffic stops, or any other area of law enforcement, is a disgrace.  It is a tool used by a few officers that tarnishes the reputation of entire departments.  No one talks about the specific officers who attacked Rodney King, they talk about the L.A.P.D.  By creating better methods designed to isolate true racial profiling, law enforcements agencies will be able to focus on identifying the offending officers more quickly and reduce the incidents of racial profiling.   This is why some researchers support creating benchmarks for individual officers to identify the offending officers before more incidents can occur.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 


Racial Profiling and Traffic Stops, National Institute of Justice, available at http://www.nij.gov/nij/topics/law-enforcement/legitimacy/traffic-stops.htm.

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