At the core of the stop and frisk policy as utilized by the New York Police Department is racial profiling. Racial profiling has a significant and often controversial place in the history of policing in the United States. Racial profiling can be loosely defined as the use of race as a key determinant in law enforcement decisions to stop, interrogate, and/or detain citizens (Weitzer & Tuch, 2002). Laws in the United States have helped to procure and ensure race based decisions in law enforcement. Historically, the Supreme Court has handed down decisions which increase the scope of discretion of a law enforcement officer. For example, traffic stops can be used to look for evidence even though the officer has not observed any criminal violation (Harris, 2003). Proponent's for racial profiling reason that racial profiling is a crime fighting tool that does treat racial/ethnic groups as potential criminal suspects based on the assumption that by doing so increases the chances of catching criminals (Harris, 2003). Also, it is important to note, law enforcement officers only need reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk, probable cause is not required as in other circumstances (Harris, 2003). It is because of this assumption that the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk policy is still a relevant issue.
When police officers are perceived as being racially motivated, where certain groups of people are being targeted, it undermines the social goals of policing, weakens residents’ cooperation with police and raises questions about the legitimacy of law (Fagan & Davies, 2000). Supporters also back up this claim with statistics that show an association between racial/ethnic groups and crime (Harris, 2003). The argument continues that the disproportionately large numbers of minorities reflected in arrest and incarceration rates is further proof to keep targeting these groups (Harris, 2003). To the supporters, racial profiling makes perfect sense and is a rational law enforcement strategy (Harris, 2003). Furthermore, supporters do not acknowledge the effects racial profiling has not only on people who belong to these groups, but on the relations between police and the communities they serve. Today policing strategies which center on community policing and racial profiling only alienates people from the police and causes deep seeded mistrust. Failure to acknowledge the racial context of the law and its enforcement will only increase the racial disparities that already exist in all aspects of criminal justice (Johnson, 2003).
Harris (1999) has suggested that racial profiling was practically put into place during the Reagan administration with the implementation of Operation Pipeline by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In this operation conducted across the nation's highways, local and state officials cooperated with DEA officials to target private cars based on a profile of potential drug...