Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Racial Profiling Doesn't Work: Do the Math

"But doesn't racial profiling work?" No, simply speaking, it does not. There's ample data to explain that it does not work. Sites like this one defend racial profiling with statements like this: "But the unmentionable reality behind the sob stories about the likes of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown is that the color of crime in the U.S. is disproportionately black."

That's a tricky statement. Don't fall for it. It's actually sort of true but for a reason that they don't explain. When they focus policing efforts on people of color, the police literally are ignoring the white people who could also be getting arrested, but aren't. Because the police are significantly ignoring the opportunity to arrest them in specific scenarios.

The color of people arrested for crime is disproportionately black. That is true. The color of people committing crime is not actually disproportionally black. That's what makes this statement false and misleading. 

Look at the math as it relates to drug crime. It works out like this. According to Public Health Surveys, basically 75% of illegal drug users are white. Yet lots of data shows that police target people of color way more than white people. Just one example: "Crime statistics show that in 1999 in the United States blacks were far more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for drug crimes, and received much stiffer penalties and sentences than whites." Black people are only 13% of illegal drug users, yet they comprise 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes.

In short, the police are detaining, arresting and sending more black people to jail for drug crimes, when the data suggests that actually, white people are more likely to be in possession of illegal drugs.

How does this even make sense from a law enforcement perspective? It's wasted effort. Poorly focused.

"There is strong evidence that racial profiling does not work. In fact, where racial profiling has been studied in the context of law enforcement, such as in the United States, it has been found by some scholars to be neither an efficient nor effective approach to fighting crime. Studies in the United States have consistently found that while minorities (African American and Latino persons) were targeted more, the chance of finding contraband when their cars were searched was the same or less than White persons. In several studies, minorities were found to be statistically significantly less likely to have contraband found following a search. For example, a 2001 U.S. Department of Justice report on 1,272,282 citizen-police contacts in 1999 found that, although African Americans and Hispanics were much more likely than White persons to be stopped and searched, they were about half as likely to be in possession of contraband." Source.

"Those who defend the police argue that racial and ethnic disparities reflect not discrimination but higher rates of offenses among minorities. Nationwide, blacks are 13 times more likely to be sent to state prisons for drug convictions than are whites, so it would seem rational for police to assume that all other things being equal, a black driver is more likely than a white driver to be carrying drugs. But the racial profiling studies uniformly show that this widely shared assumption is false." Source.