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Public Administration, Research Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1414

Research Paper

Abstract

As public servants and officers entrusted to maintain public administration in the form of citizen protection, the police face enormous and complex challenges. Depending upon where they perform their duties, expectations from the communities they serve are frequently frustrated by limited means, an insufficient workforce, and legal restrictions in place to protect the rights of suspects. Specifically, the issue of police profiling has been hotly debated, and vocal opponents categorize it as a racist and illegal practice, wherein suspects are predetermined as such by virtue of minority status. Ultimately, however, police profiling, done rationally, is nothing more than an implementing of established data and a potentially effective method of lessening crime.

Police Profiling: Issues

In basic terms, the practice of police profiling refers to employing statistics on crime and criminals to obtain a working idea of who the most likely perpetrators of crime will be, in a given area or city. As the practice relies upon a complex gathering and sorting of information, profiling, at least in the modern sense, is commonly thought to be a relatively recent activity and concern. The impetus behind it, however, is as old as police work itself: “Profiling is the long-held, widespread police practice of viewing certain characteristics of individuals and situations as indicative of criminal behavior” (Barkan, Bryjak, 2009, p. 259).

It is logical to conclude that the increased racial awareness in place over the past few decades has brought profiling into sharp focus; plainly, a general disregard for the status of minorities must translate to a lack of concern in the violation of minority rights, both from a community and the police employed to protect it. As civil rights movements took potent form in the 1960s and beyond, all forms of discrimination came under intense scrutiny. This ran the gamut from job opportunities and social restrictions to, not unexpectedly, the way minorities have been treated by the police. Consequently, when profiling is discussed, it is typically racial profiling at the heart of the controversy.

The arguments regarding racial profiling emanate from every quarter, and opposing sides represent all factions within society. Government and public administration officials ordinarily condemn the practice, pointing to the fundamental violation of basic human rights it appears to manifest. Their position is, however, tenuous, for racial profiling actually defies strict definition and is therefore not, technically, illegal. A court may hold that a case of evident racial profiling ignores the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees all citizens equal treatment under the law. Many courts, in fact, have. These same courts, nonetheless, must take into account public fear, and confront as well the inescapable data motivating the police action.

Opponents of racial profiling are by no means restricted to minority spokespeople. As noted, public officials at the highest levels of government, particularly presidential, decry it. Such opposition is most often put forth in a theoretical manner; every citizen, regardless of ethnicity, must be treated by the police as all citizens are. This goes to the most basic components of the nation’s founding principles, and is not easily disputed by any rational means.

This point brings up, however, an interesting distinction. That is to say, when does police “treatment” actually commence? In profiling, there is an inherent degree of passivity; it relies upon a watchfulness generated by a police force with allegedly sound cause to be suspicious. It is arguable if any citizen’s rights are being truly violated when no real, active police presence is thrust upon them.

Opponents immediately proclaim that the suspicion itself is the violation. It opens the door for unjustified interrogation and/or harassment, and it is as well an insult to the profiled citizen. While there is evident validity to this argument, it nonetheless ignores two realities. The first is that any citizen of any race at all may be, simply through circumstance, unfairly “profiled” merely because an expectation of criminal activity prompts the watchfulness from police relied upon by the community. Then, there is the matter of data, strongly pointing to probabilities.

Those who support racial profiling do not usually do so overtly, or proudly. It is, in such eyes, a regrettable but vital tool. The information employed by the police, they aver, is not guilty of racism or racist intent because it is only information. Supporters tend to view profiling opposition as an understandable, but naïve, reaction to unfortunate circumstances. It may be assumed that both sides would be pleased to see an eventual vanishing of all discrimination lead to a world wherein profiling is an outmoded and useless police activity.

Letter to the Editor

I have observed in my own community attitudes regarding racial profiling that I find disturbing. A frequent business traveler, and one based in a major city, I have had occasion to witness airport security incidents which have made me reflect on profiling, and how it is viewed by the people around me, in a new light.

In the past, I was as adamantly against racial profiling as anyone, certainly in theory. It just seemed to me to go against everything this country is supposed to be about. Then, the world changed.  As is commonly known, the enormous attention placed upon terrorism within the past ten years has brought the issues of racial profiling under even more intense scrutiny. After the attacks of 9/11, racial profiling was done openly, in a sense. It seemed to be very much regarded by the public at large as, if an evil, a necessary one: “…Public attitudes toward racially profiling terrorists softened as the sense of urgency regarding future terrorist attacks increased” (Turvey, 2008, p. 526).

What occurred, and what I see occurring almost every time I travel, is that citizens who would be unduly distressed to see an African American detained at a security checkpoint for no obvious reason are inclined to support the same detaining of those of Middle Eastern aspect. The prevalent and national point of view regarding any inequities with racial profiling became uniformly segmented because the nature of terrorism seemed to demand a far more narrow interpretation of civil rights.

This is what has compelled me to reexamine my own feelings on the subject. That single element serves to eviscerate opposition against racial profiling, and not merely because it is an unreasonable viewpoint generated by a greater fear. The logic appears to be that, as there is irrefutable evidence that terrorism is conducted by people from Middle astern backgrounds, and that such people are easily identified by physical characteristics and modes of dress, it is rational to suspect them.

If, however, this mode of thinking is in any way valid, I do not see how it may be confined to either potential crime or suspected perpetrator of any kind. The enormity of a terrorist act cannot alter the virtue or immorality of racial profiling; the process exists independent of specific criminal action, no matter the impact. Consequently, if the police possess solid data revealing that, in a certain district, a certain minority population is overwhelmingly implicated in crime, the exact same principles apply, and the racial profiling remains a logical and productive, if unfortunate, tool in diminishing crime in that area.

I have further reflected on a frequently overlooked aspect of the issue, which is that the police are an extension of the public. They are citizens too, who, for whatever reason, have selected that career. Then, the profiling done on Middle Eastern people at my airport is not limited to the police; I see my neighbors doing it, although they do not have the authority to actually detain anyone. The suspicions and the fears are plain to see, and it strikes me as highly unreasonable to expect our police and security people to somehow demonstrate a finer character than we ourselves possess.

What we expect, in fact, is that the police reflect our own concerns. They operate, as we do, based not only on what is actually occurring, but on what may well occur, given a set of known circumstances. In my view now, racial profiling is an ugly consequence of a flawed society. However, as long as empirical data and solid backgrounds of evidence support it, I cannot in good conscience claim that it is unethical, or wrong. I can only trust that the police always keep profiling within tightly maintained parameters, and never let the tool that it is dictate unfounded actions.

References

Barkan, S. E., and Bryjack, G. J. (2009.) Fundamentals of Criminal Justice: A Sociological View. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Turvey, B. E. (2008.) Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis. Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

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