Civil rights are a hot button topic in the American political realm. For those who know about police procedures, racial profiling is strongly denied. No one is pulled over or stopped unless they are doing wrong. However, the dirty little secret among some police officers is that profiling is very common, especially in a situation in which race is involved.
No one could actually prove that’s what was happening, but it soon became clear that African Americans were being harassed. To make matters worse, there were no laws that banned this type of behavior on the part of law enforcement. Maryland is now the first state to specifically ban this part of police behavior. If racial profiling is suspected, then the officer may be subject to charges.
What is Discriminatory Profiling?
Discriminatory profiling means that law enforcement pulls over, approaches or otherwise detains someone for the sole reason that their circumstances don’t fit preconceived stereotypes. For instance, the most common example of racial profiling is pulling over a black man in a nice neighborhood and driving a nice car. The “suspect” may have been following all traffic laws and had no problems with their car. An officer pulls them over simply to find out why they are there and why they are driving a car they assume is stolen.
Discriminatory profiling doesn’t just happen to African Americans. Mexican and Hispanic citizens are also targets for this profiling. For instance, a Mexican driving a van may be pulled over on suspicion of transporting illegal aliens. In addition, it is not beyond the idea of profiling to search these races for drugs, firearms and other illegal paraphernalia without the benefit of probable cause. The search and harassment occur only because of the individual’s race or other defining characteristic.
What the New Law Says
The new law is a step toward ending discriminatory profiling, but it probably doesn’t go far enough. It is designed to stop “spontaneous investigative activities” on the part of law enforcement. The law aims to do this in a few different ways. One way is to include anti-profiling in all law enforcement training to help officers understand what profiling is and how to avoid it. Another is to look at all of the paperwork on these spontaneous activities to determine if racial profiling is present.
Unfortunately, the penalties for this behavior are not clear or not severe enough. If the Department of Justice audits the law enforcement agency and finds the use of discriminatory profiling, then grant money will be withheld until the oversight is addressed. This could mean remediation for the officers involved or in-services about profiling. Another idea is to institute the use of body cameras on police officers. This can help supervisors see what the officer was specifically looking at when they started their investigation. Cameras in cars have been helpful in pointing out some of these problems, but they do not catch all. In addition, there is generally no penalty for discriminatory profiling. Even if the cameras picked up on this behavior, it is unlikely that any definitive action would be taken unless by the discretion of the law enforcement agency.
How this Affects Defendants
This law makes the allegations of discriminatory profiling much more serious. It means that defendants, provided it is provable, can accuse the officers of an unreasonable spontaneous search. Since there are no penalties, the accusation may sway the judge to the defendant’s case, again provided that there is sufficient proof of profiling.
In some ways, this law can be abused in that every defendant could claim profiling, but this is where the burden of proof rests on the defendant and their attorney. It would take a great deal of substantial proof to get this sort of defense through the legal system. Proof would include lack of reason for investigation, race or defining characteristic prominent in arrest, and video evidence.