Evaluation of a Policy of Racial Profiling: A Utilitarian Ethics Approach
Students are to write a 10 – 12 page research paper on an important ethical subject where they develop and ethics policy. In essence, you have the opportunity to solve an ethical dilemma on a grand scale. Students should identify an ethical topic they are interested in studying and create a policy and/or a recommendation to a state governing agency about how this ethical issue should be handled moving forward. Your choices should be fueled by empirical research and scholarly sources on the subject. This ethical issue will impact more than just your own individual self—it will affect the lives of all those across the state or even the country. Your job is to write a research paper for the state governor to use as the basis for his/her decision on this issue.
As you write your paper, consider the moral rules that will support your decision.
General structure of your policy analysis
1. Conduct a brief review/synopsis of the relevant facts.
2. Identify what you believe to be the major ethical issues and the relevant underlying values of each opposing side.
3. Set forth your recommendations for the continued use, modification, or discontinuation of this policy. Your decision must have some sort of rationale behind it. This is where you will present an answer to the policy issue at hand. Before you can do this, you will have to decide on what ethical system underlies your analysis. There is no right/wrong system of ethics—choose the one with which you most closely identify. If you are a utilitarian, your stance may be very different than if you identify with ethical formalism or an ethic of care. But, as we know from our class exercises, despite our different ethical systems, we may encounter the same results.
Please adhere to these directives:
Organization: Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Body of the Paper, Conclusion.
The papers should have a brief introduction, appropriate transitions between topic areas, and a short conclusion. I am interested in each student’s ability to craft an organized approach to an ethical issue in criminal justice. Synthesize the literature on the subject and critically assess the ethical issue.
Substance: Each student should be able to craft a well-reasoned ethical argument. Since we will be addressing “hot” topics of current debate, emotions will run high. However, please try to support your argument with more than just emotion. Where appropriate, essays should draw from course readings, lectures, and discussions particular to the subject matter.
References: Consult at least five (5) outside peer reviewed sources to complete this assignment (the course readings do not count). Please consider the five-source requirement as establishing the baseline; students seeking higher grades are advised to broaden their research.
Evaluation of a Policy of Racial Profiling: A Utilitarian Ethics Approach
Criminal justice is a complex discipline that is shrouded in much controversy and political cacophony. Ideally, one would expect a rather simple model and process of the execution of criminal justice. Under this model/process, individuals who offend the law are apprehended and subjected to some form of legal action that would remedy their misgivings, while those offended receive remediation that enables them to attain restoration. While this notion sounds quite simple, the reality is rather different and much more complicated. The criminal justice system is instead a perilous landscape that is laden with numerous political and ethical landmines that can prove calamitous to note only the individuals involved, but further, to the entire justice system and the society. These ethical issues are to be found at all stages of the system, from the policing units all the way to correctional units. The multifaceted complexity of the criminal justice system is well explicated by the diversity of perspectives on the justice system and its role. (Siegel & Senna, 2008) highlights that there is a lack of consensus with experts still seeking the most appropriate combination of policies that reduces crime rates and guarantees public safety while yet protecting individual rights and liberties. Besides the quandary of the criminal justice system, its enigmatic nature is further exacerbated by the significance of public opinion whereby justice must not only be done, but also seen to be done. It is within this context that one of the most pertinent ethical issues pertaining to the criminal justice system, that of racial profiling policies intended to reduce crime, is discussed. Specifically, the ensuing discourse addresses the ethical question of a policy of racial profiling by police officers to reduce and prevent crime on the streets.
Definition of Facts
Racial profiling is one of the most pertinent issues of the 21st century. For America, the topic of race is a thorny issue, particularly when it comes to law enforcement. While race and racism has been a persistently significant topic in the American discourse on justice, its importance has taken on a new dimension and increased weightiness in recent times. The rejuvenated interest on this topic is because of increased cases of police killings involving members of the African-American community. For example, in 2016 alone there have been 160 cases of police killings of black people (Mappingpoliceviolence.org, 2016). This is indicative of heightened police action against members of a particular racial group, an assertion that is supported by further data from Mappingpoliceviolence.org, (2016). The website documents that black people were three times more likely to be killed by police that white people. Whether pursued formally or informally, there is evidently an active policy of racial profiling by police during the fulfilment of their law enforcement obligation.
Racial profiling is in itself a contentious subject of debate, with different researchers providing different definitions of the same. Risse & Zeckhauser define racial profiling as “any police initiated action that relies on race, ethnicity, or national origin and not merely on the behavior of an individual” (2004, p.136). The core concern for Risse and Zeckhauser in developing their definition of racial profiling is to inculcate all instances where race is used determinatively. On his part, Reiman (2011) contends that this definition is too broad, particularly taking issue with the inclusion of factors such as ethnicity, religion, and nationality for purposes of profiling. Reiman argues that this is instead a case of ethnic profiling, a concern that is sufficiently legitimate.
The question of race is just one aspect of the question at hand. The other aspect that has to be defined has to do with what ends racial profiling is used to achieve. The current question dictates a situation in which police use racial profiling to reduce and prevent crime on the streets. Crime reduction and prevention envisions a wide range of police actions that includes routine police checks, police investigation, arrests and in recent times, armed confrontation.
In reality, there are many ways in which racial profiling can be applied. However, not all of these applications of racial profiling constitute the ethical question of a policy of racial profiling. For instance, if the prime suspect in a particular crime has already been identified by witnesses as being of a particular race, then police investigations focusing exclusively on that particular race would not be deemed as racial profiling. Instead, the ethical question stems from the application of race only in specific circumstances where members are targeted primarily because of their racial make-up. One instance where this practice has particularly been prevalent is in traffic stops. Higgins, Gabbidon, & Vito (2010) highlight that discriminatory practices during the early 90s led to a series of litigations against police. Owing to the litigations, police officers began to record the race of the drivers and the reasons for routine stops. The data collected henceforth has played an important role in facilitating scholarly research into racial profiling by police officers.
Major Ethical Issues
The major ethical dilemma underlying racial profiling stems from the underlying issue of racism. Racism has been a thorny issue not just for America, but the globe over. In America, racism is a long-standing problem that over time has become embedded in institutions. The construction of race in America began during the exploration period. A host of social, political, and economic factors played a role in the construction of race as a social paradigm (Alexander & Stivers, 2010). Framers of race attempted to create meaning around human differences. Over time, there was deliberate bias, which was exercised through discriminative laws that intended to separate individuals based on this differences. With time, these biases morphed into beliefs that were adopted within organizations and which influenced decision-making. The resultant structures were built upon these race-driven patterns of decision-making (Alexander & Stivers, 2010). Some of these structures are extant. This long-standing practice of institutionalized racism is what raises particular concern with regard to the policy of racial profiling.
The ethical dilemma is further exacerbated by the fact that the line between racial profiling and racial discrimination is very thin, and many times invisible. Indeed, it is usually difficult to determine when the use of race constitutes beneficial profiling or is just a case of racial discrimination, or as Chan puts it, “proper and improper use of race by police” (2011, p. 75). Chan goes on to describe three mechanisms of racial disparities in police treatment. These are cognitive bias and stereotyping, prejudice and race-based deployment. The three are distinguished by their underlying nature as being conscious or unconscious. Prejudice constitutes a conscious bias, while cognitive bias and stereotyping can be unconscious biases underpinned by false assumptions. Race-based deployment is on its part an organizational practice that may or may not be conscious. The difficulty in determining where beneficial racial profiling ends, and harmful profiling or outright discrimination begins is part of the reason for this dilemma.
This, however, is only one side of the dilemma. On the reverse side is the fact that racial profiling can in fact be beneficial to police officers in assisting them to realize the objective of a reduction in crime rates. Risse & Zeckhauser (2004) provide three paradigmatic case that are useful in illustrating how racial profiling can be used. In the first case, profiling can be used in the arrest of individuals who have committed specific crimes. Another instance is the use of racial profiling at certain high-risk locations such as airports, where individuals of Arabic descent receive increased attention. Finally, they also present the case of racial profiling targeting drivers with the intention of intercepting drugs, or that on the streets, which is aimed at recovering weapons. Another instance where profiling would be useful is at border crossings where border patrol officers may single out individuals of Mexican descent at the Mexican border in their search for illegal immigrants (Lee, 2015). While such racial profiling may be beneficial, it may not always achieve the intended outcomes and instead end up in controversy. Lee highlights the example of police traffic stops on a highway, noting that since police officers cannot stop everyone, they will be more inclined to stop black and brown individuals. In the end, they may end up not arresting those who actually violate the law.
The practice of racial profiling by police is evidently a controversial ethical issue. The level of controversy varies based on the immediacy and level of threat posed by a crime (Risse & Zeckhauser, 2004). Accordingly, the less the immediacy of a crime, and the less the threat it poses, the more controversial that profiling is likely to be. Furthermore, profiling will also be more controversial if individuals have lower expectations of being subject to such measures and if it imposes a greater burden. Another important issue that affects the controversy of a racial profiling policy is safety concern amongst the public. Where there is a greater concern for safety, members of the public find racial profiling less controversial, as was the case in the US in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks (Higgins, Gabbidon, & Vito, 2010). During this period, individuals found profiling to be less controversial and even beneficial.
Racial profiling by police is further enigmatic in the sense that it affects the delivery of justice. On her part, Chan (2011) highlights that victims of racial profiling are not concerned with police intentions but instead, they are more fixated on the sense of insecurity and injustice that stays with them. In the long-term, this can have effects such as alienating a particular ethnic group – or in this case, racial group – and causing them to lose confidence in the police force.
Views on the Policy of Racial Profiling
The ethical issues discussed above constitute some of the views of the proponents and opponents of the profiling policy. The proponents of racial profiling argue that it can help to prevent and reduce crime. Risse & Zeckhauser (2004) highlight the two productivity assumptions underscoring the propagation of profiling. The first is that a correlation exists between being a member of a certain racial grouping and an elevated tendency to commit certain crimes. The second assumption is that based on the first, then police can successfully reduce crime rates by stopping, searching and investigating members of this particular racial groups individually. A failure of either of these assumptions renders racial profiling as an inept policy that is incapable of assisting police officers in reducing and preventing crime.
The failure of these assumptions is one of the factors that opponents of racial profiling rely on. Ryberg (2011) contends that empirical evidence indicates that police officers do not obtain higher returns from the use of race as a targeting factor during stops and searches. This is one of the most concrete arguments against profiling. Another argument is that the adaptive nature of certain crime groups such as terrorist outfits will render such a policy inept in the long term (Ryberg, 2011). Another argument suggests that the costs of using racial profiling as a consideration outweigh the gains or alternatively, there are implicit constraints that make the application of such a policy impossible. A third argument has been that while racial profiling might lead to an increase in the criminal hit rate, this does not necessarily imply that there will be a reduction in the overall crime rate. The rationale belying this argument is that increased searches on the minority may reduce crime rates amongst the minority, but provide leeway for increased crime within the majority (Ryberg, 2011). Each of these arguments are logically sound, albeit the last one is mainly speculative. The issue is now discussed from an ethical paradigm.
Utilitarian Analysis of the Ethicality of Racial Profiling
Many ethical frameworks exist, that may be used to evaluate the subject matter. For example, Risse & Zeckhauser (2004) draw from utilitarian and non-consequentialist standpoints to develop the self-interest argument, whereby they contend that racial profiling is in the interest of the targeted race, say the African American community. On his part, Reiman (2011) approaches the issue from the standpoint of the original position. He investigates the subject matter within two contexts: a society without racism and another laden with racism. Reiman concludes that racial profiling is just in the first case, if it is carried out expeditiously with the outcome of increased efficiency in crime control. In the second context, Reiman finds racial profiling to pose the danger of increasing racist attitudes. Consequently, he recommends that profiling should be conducted under special circumstances where there is supervision and the targets are extremely dangerous criminals. The utilitarian model is also applied by Ryberg (2011), who additionally contrasts it with retributivism, albeit his paper deals with punitive measures. For the purposes of the current discourse, the utilitarian ethical approach is chosen.
The utilitarian ethical approach is a consequentialist ethical approach that views actions based on their outcomes. Utilitarian ethics views an action as being justifiable/ethical if it results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Through the utilitarian framework, it is therefore necessary to take into account all the costs and benefits associated with a particular action. In this case, this would be the costs and benefits associated with a policy of racial profiling. The main benefits that this policy targets is a reduction in overall crime. This would be achieved via two mechanisms. The first is an increase in apprehensions of individuals suspected of committing crimes, what is referred to as hit rate (Ryberg, 2011). The second is increased deterrence for members of that particular racial make-up to partake in the targeted crimes. Risse & Zeckhauser (2004) contend that once individuals acknowledge the fact that members of their race are particularly being targeted for certain crimes, then they become disproportionately deterred from engaging in these crimes. Further, they argue that members of the African-American community would incur short-term costs while deriving long-term benefits.
A crucial consideration to keep in mind while pursuing the utilitarian framework is the multi-faceted nature of the costs and benefits that are associated with a policy of racial profiling. At first glance, it is easy to claim that the benefits accruing from racial profiling readily outweigh the associated costs. Conversely, Risse & Zeckhauser (2004) highlight research, which contends that often during the calculation of costs and benefits; a crucial component of cost is usually ignored. This component is that of feelings of resentment, hurt and loss of confidence in the police force. Risse and Zeckhauser, nevertheless, proceed to negate these costs by inculcating their own set of benefits, while discounting the cost of resentment by indicating that these costs are merely incremental. Whatever the case, resentment, and loss of confidence in the police force is clearly a cost of racial profiling. On his part, Reiman (2011) points out that while racial profiling may in itself not amount to an act of racism, such a policy nonetheless contributes to an increase in racism, such as the perpetuation of a suspicious view of black people by white people.
Evidently, it is difficult to determine outright whether the costs of racial profiling outweigh the benefits. However, as has been noted, the ethical dilemma of racial profiling is perpetuated not only by the factors implicit upon the issue itself, but also by tangential factors such as public perceptions and public opinion. In this regard, it becomes significant whether race-based action by police is interpreted as being prejudicial. The significance of contemporary events modifies the nature of the problem even further, since justice is not only objective, but also subjective. Here, justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done, a fact that is aptly illustrated by level I of Walker’s wedding cake model of justice, celebrated cases (Siegel & Senna, 2008). The recent spate of police brutality targeting members of the black community then becomes a further cost associated with racial profiling. Given these costs, the policy of racial profiling fails the utilitarian ethical test. Consequently, racial profiling is an unethical policy and appropriate steps should be taken to avoid the conscious or inadvertent application of the same.
Criminal justice faces many ethical dilemmas concerning not
just the field itself, but also, its branches and associated policies and
decisions. One such policy that has been evaluated in this essay is that of
racial profiling. Using a utilitarian model of ethics, the costs associated
with such a policy have been weighed against the benefits that are derived from
the same. While it may be true that racial profiling can result in a larger
number of apprehensions, this has in itself been rejected by empirical
consideration. Moreover, even where this is a valid benefit, the analysis finds
that the associated cost of racial profiling is too high and readily outweighs
the benefits. This is particularly in the wake of heightened scrutiny of the
police force for killings of black people, whereby in many of these cases,
these individuals were unharmed or posed no serious threat. Indeed, these
actions portray the police force as being prejudicial, and it is for this
reason that racial profiling fails the ethical test of utilitarianism.
Consequently, it is wiser that no such policies are applied or implemented.
Alexander, J., & Stivers, C. (2010). An ethic of race for public administration. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 32(4), 578-597.
Chan, J. (2011). Racial profiling and police subculture. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 53(1), 75-78.
Higgins, G., Gabbidon, S., & Vito, G. (2010). Exploring the influence of race relations and public safety concerns on public support for racial profiling during traffic stops. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 12(1), 12-22.
Lee, C. (2015). Making Black and Brown Lives Matter Incorporating Race into the Criminal Procedure Curriculum. Louis ULJ 60, 60, 481-496.
Mappingpoliceviolence.org. (2016). MAPPING POLICE VIOLENCE. Retrieved August 14, 2016, from http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/
Reiman, J. (2011). Is racial profiling just? Making criminal justice policy in the original position. The Journal of ethics, 15(1), 3-19.
Risse, M., & Zeckhauser, R. (2004). Racial profiling. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 32, 131-170.
Ryberg, J. (2011). Racial profiling and criminal justice. The Journal of ethics, 15(1), 79-88.
Siegel, L. J., & Senna, J. J. (2008). Introduction to criminal justice. Belmont: Thomson Higher Education.