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Are Police Allowed to Racially Profile? A State Law Breakdown

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 12, 2015 10:04 AM

It almost seems silly to ask whether racial profiling is allowed in policing. Obviously there are laws against racial discrimination in law enforcement, right?

As it turns out, there are still 20 states that haven't specifically outlawed racial profiling by police. And statutes can differ even in the states that have. Here's a quick look at how some states deal with racial profiling.

Reporting Racial Profiling

After revelations that an Arizona Sheriff's Department was systematically targeting Latinos and the Department of Justice's conclusion that police in Ferguson, Missouri similarly profiled black residents, people are wondering whether, and how, this kind of police profiling is allowed. As a recent NAACP report points out, while the majority of states (including Arizona and Missouri) have laws prohibiting police from racially profiling, many others do not.

The report focused on so-called "stop-and-frisk" procedures and their disproportionate use against black males. In researching this topic, the report also found:

  • 20 state laws do not explicitly prohibit racial profiling;
  • 30 states have some form of racial profiling laws on the books;
  • 17 state laws ban the use of pretextual traffic stops;
  • 16 states criminalize violations of their anti-profiling laws;
  • 3 states allow individuals to seek injunctive relief to stop officers or police departments from racial
  • 18 states require mandatory data collection for all stops and searches; 15 require analysis and
    publication of racial profiling data;
  • 18 states require the creation of commissions to review and respond to complaints of racial
    profiling; and
  • No states meet all of the NAACP criteria of an effective racial profiling law.

Anti-Profiling Statutes

While you might think it would be conservative Southern states that don't ban racial profiling, it is generally the opposite. Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina are the only states south of the Mason-Dixon line that don't have laws against racial profiling. Generally, it's Western states like Idaho, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, along with states with a liberal reputation like Vermont and New York that have yet to ban profiling. You can see the full map, along with a chart of the applicable laws in each state in the NAACP report.

If you feel that you've been racially profiled or otherwise unfairly targeted by police, you may want to consult an experienced criminal attorney near you.

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