Racial profiling policies in law enforcement

Racial profiling policies in law enforcement help reduce tension and build trust between a police department and its community.

September 1, 2021

Article highlights

Racial profiling is a sensitive topic, but now more than ever, it’s important to have racial profiling policies in law enforcement. Given the current climate in the U.S., racial profiling policies can protect your agency, officers, and the community.

What is bias-based profiling?

Bias can be conscious or unconscious. Meaning people can be consciously aware of their bias, whether or not they’d admit to it. But just as often, people hold biases they’re not even aware of. These negative associations are expressed automatically without conscious awareness. Both conscious and unconscious bias can influence a person’s attitude and behavior, which impacts the way they treat others in real-world scenarios.

Racial profiling is simply one aspect of bias-based profiling. 

Lone Star College in Texas has a good definition of racial or bias-based profiling in law enforcement:

A law enforcement-initiated action based on an individual's race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than on the individual's behavior or on information identifying the individual as having engaged in criminal activity.

For example, stopping a driver for speeding because of the driver's race or ethnicity when they are one of many cars that have been speeding is considered racial profiling. Singling out one person from a crowd because they're wearing a turban or hijab is considered bias-based profiling (i.e. on religious grounds).

What is a racial profiling policy?

We spoke with Nicholas Haupt – Chief Consultant of BlueIQ, a consulting company that helps law enforcement organizations achieve professional excellence – about how and why there should be bias-based and racial profiling policies in law enforcement.

"The importance of having these policies is two-fold," said Haupt. "For one thing, it sets the tone for your agency and its employees about what's expected of them. Your employees need to know what's expected of them and what you will not tolerate in regards to racial profiling.

"Second, very often, these policies are public documents, or agencies make them public. This shows the public your commitment to preventing racial profiling."

Additionally, most accreditation commissions will mandate that your agency has some formal, fair, and impartial/bias-based policing policy in place. These days, if you want accreditation for your agency, you're mandated to have this policy in place.

Importance of racial profiling policies in law enforcement

Building trust in communities

Despite the varying opinions on this topic, the truth is that public perception matters, and a racial profiling policy (especially one that’s available to the public) can build bridges between your agency and the community.

Data shows that a majority of Black and White Americans believe Black people are treated less fairly than Whites by the police and the criminal justice system. According to a Pew Research Center survey in June 2019, "84% of Black adults said that, in dealing with police, Blacks are generally treated less fairly than Whites; 63% of Whites said the same. 

Similarly, Black adults are five times as likely to say they've been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity – 44% versus 9%.

And the news is filled with stories of police departments being sued for racial profiling.

Law enforcement agencies, local governments, and even universities have been creating racial profiling policies to address the problem. Houston, Texas established General Order 600-42. The University of Central Florida has a bias-based profiling policy. And the state of Kansas has passed legislation that required all Kansas law enforcement agencies to have a racial profiling policy.

Clearly, racial profiling policies in law enforcement have become one of the hot-button issues in the larger law enforcement community. If your agency hasn’t created a bias-based or racial profiling policy, keep reading for some tips on how to develop one.

Reduce liability

One of the most important reasons to have racial profiling policies is to reduce liability and prevent lawsuits. Setting aside, for the moment, the importance of trust and cooperation between police and their community, the sheer cost of the number of racial profiling lawsuits being filed all across the country is in the millions of dollars.

Reducing your liability costs is critical for high-risk, high-liability organizations, especially if your liability insurance provider thinks you're at higher risk for a lawsuit. An agency's policies are the first line of defense against lawsuits, including racial profiling policies. And without liability insurance, your agency is in danger of being sued into bankruptcy or worse. That's why cities in California, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee disbanded their police departments entirely after losing their liability insurance.

"If you're profiling, you're not engaging in professional policing practices and could be violating someone's constitutional rights," said Haupt. "We're seeing entire agencies be investigated for discriminatory practices against their citizens. That's not a position any chief or agency would want to find themselves in."

It's important for agencies to make a commitment to eliminate bias-based policing and hold employees accountable when they're found doing it. Agencies can also protect themselves against employee lawsuits if their policy is thorough and if they can prove employee acknowledgment of the policy.

How to develop a racial profiling policy for your agency

There are plenty of resources available, such as model policies from Arkansas, New York City, and even the U.S. Congress End Racial Profiling Act of 2017. It's also possible and important to consult with other agencies to see what they're doing, especially in cities similar to yours in size and demographic makeup.

Additionally, there will be a strong need for training, and there's plenty of content online, as well as professional consultants who deal with fair and impartial policing. It's important to make sure your agency trains regularly on the topic. 

"Training shows that you're not only trying to promote diversity in your workforce, but that your police standards are fair and impartial as well," said Haupt. "The companies you're using for training may be able to help you find policies to use as models."

Additionally, your accreditation agency or professional association may have model policies. For example, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has a model policy available for any law enforcement agency to use.

Final thoughts

A law enforcement agency and its leadership should know the feelings of their community, and they would be wise to adopt a racial profiling policy for the benefits of that community and their own reputation, not to mention as a way to reduce the risk of lawsuits and losing their liability insurance.

The chief knows the feeling of the community, and the city council or county commissioners know what is being expected of them as well. Any kind of chief executive would be wise to consider looking at their policies. Do they reflect the views of your community? Do you prevent and control crime and keep our officers safe? Does the community feel like you’re meeting their needs and keeping them safe as well?

PowerDMS has worked for years helping police departments create and manage policies like racial profiling policies in law enforcement. Learn more about the 12 law enforcement policies your agency needs today. 

Related Article

Footer CTA Image

Start writing more effective policies

Start writing more effective policies

Write policies and procedures that better protect your agency, officers, and community with our free 12-page guide.

Download Free Guide

Schedule a Consultation!

Everything you need to train, equip, and protect your public safety employees in a single system – from the moment they’re hired until they retire. Schedule a consultation to learn how PowerDMS can benefit you.