Thursday, June 17, 2010

To Congress: End Racial Profiling

A University of Pittsburgh law professor told a congressional sub committee today that the federal government should do everything it can to end the use of racial profiling in law enforcement. “The use of racial or ethnic appearance as a way to target law enforcement efforts does not help police catch more criminals; rather, racial targeting nets fewer criminals and in the bargain turns the public against police efforts,” says professor David Harris. Harris says the research supports his opinion at all levels, from watching for drugs on the highway to fighting street crime in Pittsburgh. Harris spoke before the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. Harris says officers need to rely more on a person’s behavior rather than their race or ethnicity. He says all officers are trained to watch for behavioral clues and looking for race distracts their attention. “Police should move away from the short cut,” says Harris. Harris says police also need to rely on good intelligence. He says, “You have to get [intelligence] from the community, and if you are using profiling that targets a whole group, a whole community, just because we think we know who the enemy is, what happens is the community becomes fearful and suspicious instead of trusting you.” Harris says community policing and intelligence gathering is all about trust.
Harris takes his message to police chiefs as often as he can because that is where policy is set. He says even though congress does not set local policy it can have a big impact on what appears in local training manuals and what happens in local training classes. Harris says congress can pass legislation similar to the End Racial Profiling Act proposed in the last Congress. “[A law] that would provide incentives to police department receiving federal funding to have policies in place against this, to have training, even providing some funds for some of that. To provide incentives to move towards best practices in law enforcement,” says Harris. He notes that this type of incentive has worked when it comes to encouraging states to take action such as lowering DUI limits and requiring seatbelt use. Those efforts use federal highway funds as the motivating factor.

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