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date: 20 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The use of the term “racial profiling” gained popularity in the mid-1990s and originally referred to the reliance on race as an explicit criterion in “profiles” of offenders that some police organizations issued to guide police officer decision making. This essay traces the evolution of racial profiling, both in terms of terminology and police practice, from the “War on Drugs” in the 1980s to present day. The essay highlights changes in policies, legislation, litigation, and data collection across the country as mechanisms to control the use of racial profiling, particularly in terms of stops and stop outcomes (e.g., citations, arrests, searches, and seizures). It also critiques the research methods and statistical analyses often used by researchers who conduct studies of the prevalence, causes, and consequences of racially biased policing. The essay concludes by issuing a new call to action for future research in the area of racial profiling. Rather than seeking incremental improvements in data collection and methodology, this essay argues for a fundamental reconceptualization of research on race and policing.

Keywords: racial profiling, racially-biased policing, stop and frisk, policing baserates

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