Witnesses at House Hearing Say Profiling Is Counterproductive to Law Enforcement Goals

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Date: 
June 24, 2010

A June 17, 2010 House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing explored the ineffectiveness of racial or ethnic profiling by law enforcement and its adverse impact on minority communities. Titled “Racial Profiling and the Use of Suspect Classifications in Law Enforcement Policy,” the hearing set the stage for the reintroduction of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) in Congress.   The hearing was held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. 

Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) opened the hearing by saying, “Looking for people of a certain race in the hope that this will make it easier to find criminals is simply not an effective way to identify and apprehend the bad guys and make us all safer. The solution lies not just in enforcement of rules against profiling, but in education and training for our law enforcement personnel. Our law enforcement officers deserve our support and effective tools to do their jobs.”

Testifying before the subcommittee, law enforcement officials and legal scholars described how discriminatory laws undermine public safety by squandering limited resources on false threats and weaken relations between law enforcement officials and minority communities.
 

Civil rights group leaders Farhana Khera, President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates and Amardeep Singh, Program Director of the Sikh Coalition, both provided examples of how profiling remains a national problem and is ineffective as a law enforcement tool. “Discriminatory policing practices divert valuable resources from legitimate investigations, increase fear and suspicion within the Muslim community towards law enforcement and make individuals more reluctant to call the authorities when needed. They also erode the trust between the community and law enforcement agencies, jeopardizing a vital relationship needed to counter actual criminal activity,” Khera said.   "It's not fair. It's not safe. It's not American," said Singh. 

 

Having worked on this issue with community groups and law enforcement for over ten years, Deborah Ramirez, Professor at Northeastern University Law School spoke about racial and religious profiling in the context of national security. “Profiling is neither a necessary nor effective component of a comprehensive law enforcement and/or counterterrorism strategy. It is a sloppy and lazy substitute for the kind of strategic and intelligent law enforcement that we need to keep our homeland safe,” she said. Rather than use profiling she said her research shows law enforcement officials are more successful in reducing crime when they build bridges with the community they are attempting to engage with, and vice versa. “When law enforcement officers partner with these communities, the communities are more likely to share information about any suspicious activity or unusual newcomers….By working with law enforcement to make their communities immune from enemies within and enemies outside of their neighborhoods, they can become a critical component of a national deterrence strategy. This approach not only produces stronger community relationships, it also results in a more effective counter‐ terrorism strategy.” 

Other witnesses included Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank and David A. Harris, Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, both of whom advocated against the use of profiling as an effective law enforcement tool.

 

Support for reintroducing and passing ERPA was also recommended. If enacted, ERPA would institute an enforcement mechanism to ensure that anti-profiling policies are being followed. It would prohibit any local, state or federal law enforcement agency or officer from engaging in racial profiling and make engaging in efforts to eliminate racial profiling a condition for law enforcement agencies to receive federal money.   Khera applauded the reintroduction of ERPA as a way to explicitly prohibit:

  • “Interviews, including FBI interviews and those by CBP agents at the border;
  • Searches of persons and/or property; and
  • Data collection and analysis, assessments, and predicated investigations.”

When he was a Senator, President Barack Obama co-sponsored similar legislation. Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) have been trying to pass ERPA since 2001.  As a candidate for president, Obama pledged to sign such a bill into law. ERPA has not yet been filed.