Racial profiling is a method of using racial or ethnic characteristics to predict whether a person is likely to commit a crime. The use of this much criticised method has risen in recent years with the perceived rise in the threat of terrorism.
Racial profiling has been widely criticised when it comes to predicting crime and is actually illegal in certain countries. The basis of racial profiling is the assumption that people of a certain race or ethnic background are more likely to commit certain crimes. After the 9/11 terrorist attack, the US authorities used racial profiling conclusions to investigate foreign nationals of middle eastern descent. These conclusions were used even if there were no other factors that warranted investigation of these individuals.
Racial Profiling in the UK
Although racial profiling is not officially used in the UK the statistics do show otherwise. Under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, police officers are permitted to stop and search individuals with justifiable cause. According to the statistics provided by the Ministry of Justice some police do seem to be using racial profiling. Asian people were over five times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Only 0.6% of the searches ended in arrests for terrorism offences.
Why Racial Profiling isn’t Working
There have been a number of high profile cases that have highlighted the flaws in racial profiling. Colleen Larose, the middle aged, white, Philadelphian suburban dwelling woman is the antithesis of the typical terrorist profile. Self named ‘Jihad Jane’ was arrested on charges of conspiring with overseas militants to murder and if necessary to become a martyr for radical Islam causes. Colleen Larose is only one of many terrorists who do not fit the usual racial profile. Larose, along with many other white terrorists, is one of the reasons why racial profiling has been seriously undermined when it comes to profiling criminals.
Racial Profiling is Alienating Communities
One of the big dangers of racial profiling is that this method may actually be counter productive. The shocking rise in stop and search incidents of certain ethnic groups will only alienate these communities. Trust in the authorities from black and Asian communities will deteriorate. What could have been a source of information for the police from these communities will no longer exist due to the abuse of racial profiling. One senior counter-terrorism official claimed that community relations achieve results, stop and search does not.
Common Uses of Racial Profiling
Racial profiling isn’t used solely as an anti-terrorism tool. There are many instances of this type of profiling being used ‘unofficially’ throughout society. These can include monitoring of suspected shoplifters in stores and the stop and search of vehicles based solely on the race of the driver. Racial profiling as an airline security measure has been widely used throughout the world. In many cases this type of profiling is used at the customs point to determine who the officials will search. This can be seen as discrimination, and one of the dangers is that while others are searched the real criminals go free.
The Alternative to Racial Profiling
Human rights organisations such as Liberty have stated that racial profiling is not as effective as rational police methods. In January 2010 the Court of Human Rights ruled that section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 does violate the right to respect for private life. According to Liberty, the profiling of suspects should be based on actual suspicion and real intelligence. Stopping and searching on the basis of skin colour, name or dress code is not a valid reason.
Racial profiling is increasingly coming under fire from many organisations as an ineffective method of crime prediction. There is no doubt that it is routinely being used and abused by authorities such as the police. Since the ruling by the Court of Human Rights in 2010 the government will now have to address this serious issue. If the abuse of racial profiling continues it will no doubt lead to increasing mistrust in the police and government officials.