Policing and Equal Protection

52 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2006

See all articles by Lawrence Rosenthal

Lawrence Rosenthal

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law


For urban policing, it is the best of times and the worst of times. The innovative and proactive policing techniques that have come into widespread use over the past decade -- sometimes referred to as the "New Policing" -- are credited by many with producing significant reductions in urban crime. The vocal and numerous critics of these tactics, however, claim that the cure has been worse than the disease, by imposing enormous and unwarranted burdens on high crime minority communities where use of these new tactics is concentrated. In this paper, I offer a defense for New Policing as faithful to the commands of the Equal Protection Clause. The Equal Protection Clause, properly understood, requires that the government offer equal protection from lawbreakers to all in a jurisdiction, even if, for a variety of reasons, courts are reluctant to enforce this principle. Conventional and reactive policing, however, is unlikely to offer equal protection because of the dynamics of disadvantaged inner-city communities. Only through the commitment of disproportionate resources and the use of aggressive tactics can the government hope to offer high crime inner-city communities protection from lawbreaking that is effectively equal to that enjoyed by other communities. Thus, even practices that seem to focus enforcement on disproportinately minority communities are frequently not properly branded as based on some form of racial discrimination or profiling, but instead are an effort to comport with constitutional aspirations.

Keywords: Equal Protection, Police, Racial Profiling, Urban Crime

Suggested Citation

Rosenthal, Lawrence, Policing and Equal Protection. Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 21, p. 53, 2003, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=926356

Lawrence Rosenthal (Contact Author)

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States

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