Racial Profiling: Past, Present, and Future?

Criminal Justice, Vol. 34, p. 10, Winter 2020

10 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2020

See all articles by David A. Harris

David A. Harris

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Date Written: February 24, 2020


It has been more than two decades since the introduction of the first bill in Congress that addressed racial profiling in 1997. Between then and now, Congress never passed legislation on the topic, but more than half the states passed laws and many police departments put anti-profiling policies in place to combat it. The research and data on racial profiling has grown markedly over the last twenty-plus years. We know that the practice is real (contrary to many denials), and the data reveal racial profiling’s shortcomings and great social costs. Nevertheless, racial profiling persists. While it took root most prominently as a tactic for finding drug couriers on interstate highways and in airports, law enforcement at many levels has made use of it to combat other problems, such as terrorism and illegal immigration. This article surveys the history of racial profiling and the various efforts to take it on, and the voluminous evidence that it fails to secure public safety even as it erodes public confidence in police. It ends with ideas for sharpening efforts to bring profiling under control.

Keywords: racial profiling, profiling, race, police, law enforcement, public safety, community policing, policy, data, data collection, police behavior, crime, crime control, traffic stops, Whren v. U.S., profiling by proxy, Suspect Citizens, End Racial Profiling Act, public safety, terrorism, immigration

Suggested Citation

Harris, David A., Racial Profiling: Past, Present, and Future? (February 24, 2020). Criminal Justice, Vol. 34, p. 10, Winter 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3543744

David A. Harris (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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