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Does Racial Profiling Exist? By: Michael Tremoglie
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 30, 2003

Guidelines issued by the Justice Department on June 17 ban routine racial and ethnic profiling by all federal law enforcement organizations. This is a drastic prohibition, when one considers that the practice of racial profiling is essentially speculation.

A study published in the journal of the American Society of Criminology[1], states that there is little data available to corroborate claims of racial profiling. However, one would never know that by the news reports and the public statements by politicians of both parties. According to these sources, racial profiling by law enforcement is an irrefutable fact. One could only think that there is a significant amount of scientific data and peer reviewed research that indicates the existence of racial profiling.

However, the study, by Professor Ronald Weitzer and Professor Steven Tuch, unequivocally states that “little empirical data exists on racial profiling...It is commonly believed that African-Americans are more likely to be stopped… (however) corroborating information...is limited.”

Professor Weitzer told me "there are few studies that attempt to measure the frequency with which racial profiling occurs. It is a difficult phenomenon to research.” Weitzer then mentioned a book by David Harris, Profiles in Injustice, and the ACLU report on profiling, both of which refer to several studies. Weitzer said, “These studies suggest that blacks are indeed more likely than whites to be stopped on highways. Of course, much more research is needed to corroborate these findings.”

The David Harris book to which Weitzer referred, Profiles in Injustice; Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work was published in February 2002. Harris is the Balk Professor of Law at the University of Toledo College of Law, and Soros Senior Justice Fellow at the Center for Crime, Communities, & Culture in New York. He is the putative leading authority on racial profiling in the nation.

Ironically, Harris’ writing is, inadvertently, even more damning than the Weitzer-Tuch study. Although he is an opponent of racial profiling (which he fervently believes is a genuine phenomenon), Harris writes in his book, "my point is that whatever their motivation, viewed as a whole, pretextual stops will be used against African-Americans and Hispanics in percentages wildly out of proportion to their numbers in the driving population….It may seem bold that I make this assertion as a fact. In fact, I lack the kind of systematically gathered and analyzed data anyone making such a statement would prefer to have. This is because virtually no one - no individual, no police department, and no other government agency - has ever kept comprehensive statistics on who police stop: basis for the stop, race of suspect, type of police activity after stop [2] (emphasis added).

Elsewhere in the book Harris proclaims, “ there may be race-neutral explanations for the statistical pattern (racial disparity in traffic stops), but none seem obvious. At the very least, further study - something as accurate and exacting as Lamberth's studies in New Jersey and Maryland - is needed[3] (emphasis added).

In Clintonian fashion, Harris first proclaims racial profiling a fact, and then states that it is little more than supposition by him.

Racial profiling allegations have been fraught with such fallacious logic since the issue gained national attention in 1998. I wrote about a study of racial profiling in Philadelphia commissioned by the Philadelphia branches of the ACLU and the NAACP.  It was obvious that the study was not in accordance with the fundamental tenets of research in that, among other things, it did not eliminate a rival hypothesis. Yet, it was reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer and quoted in other media as though it were gospel.

The Lamberth study to which Harris refers in his book is flawed, according to Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute. In her book, Are Cops Racist? MacDonald cites that Lamberth’s methodology was lacking in that it did not use an appropriate survey sample.

In assessing Lamberth’s study I was unable to determine if it were published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. Such publication is standard for academic research. My email to Lamberth requesting the name of a peer-reviewed journal that published his study has not received a reply. I did learn, however, that Lamberth has formed his own consulting firm and has contracts with various municipalities to help eradicate racial profiling, seriously clouding his objectivity.

One of the states Lamberth surveyed was New Jersey. His conclusion was that racial profiling was a common practice in the Garden State. Yet, a subsequent study commissioned by the Justice Department determined that there was no racial profiling practiced. This study posted video cameras along the NJ Turnpike and contained a larger sample than Lambert’s study. The fact that you have two studies, which are antipodean, suggests that more study is definitely needed. Unfortunately, merely the allegation of racial profiling is sufficient for the media and politicians to pronounce it fact.

Another study of racial profiling conducted in North Carolina indicated, “(African-American) males (ages) 23 to 49 have a 23 percent greater chance of receiving a citation than similarly aged whites.” However the researchers learned, “To our surprise, young African-American men and women (under the age of 23) were less likely to be issued a citation than the comparable young white men and women (6.8 percent and 3.3 percent for men and women, respectively).” The authors of this study concluded that racial disparity is not necessarily racial discrimination.[4]

As is the case with the NJ study this one is antithetical to the claim of racial profiling. Yet, inexplicably, the mainstream media reports the opposite of this.

The only current debate about racial profiling should be whether it exists. However, that is not the debate that is currently occurring in the halls of our legislatures and in our courts. The debate we are having right now is how to eliminate racial profiling, and how to prosecute and sue those who continue the process.

Before there are interminable lawsuits about racial profiling, its existence needs to be ascertained. The concept of racial profiling needs to be more than mere conjecture.

Michael P. Tremoglie is the author of the new novel A Sense of Duty, and an ex-Philadelphia cop. E-mail him at elfegobaca@comcast.net.

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