Law Enforcement against Crime

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“The terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, saw new developments by the United States on the war against terror. The nationality and ethnicity of the attackers led to an increase by law enforcement agencies to enforce racial profiling on specific racial or ethnic groups in the name of national security. While the reasoning behind these actions was somehow warranted by the acts of terror themselves, it still left many on both sides of the aisle with mixed emotions and feelings of concern for civil liberties and human rights. This was particularly true when many cases of profiling resulted on the investigation, arrest, and incarceration, of what eventually were discovered to be innocent individuals. But, what is racial profiling, and does it really help in the war against terror, and crime?

Racial profiling can be described as the practice of law enforcement to use only race or ethnicity as probable cause to search or arrest an individual (Smith & Mason, 2016). This practice initially began as a point of reference when members of law enforcement used the description of prior offenders to link crime to certain groups or ethnicities. Even in our modern age, the profiles of suspects and criminals consist of a detailed account of the individual, which include social and criminal associations; physical description; and behavioral classifications. While these types of descriptions and profiles can be very useful in the identification of suspects and in the prevention of crime, at times they have also been misused by law enforcement agencies. Most of the issues arising from the misuse of criminal profiling entails the impact it has had on minorities, especially the African American community, and in recent years, those individuals from the Middle East or Muslim majority countries.

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The use of criminal profiling during an investigation helps narrow the suspects associated with a particular crime. By using this type of tool, law enforcement agencies significantly reduce the amount of research and work done to locate suspects and criminals. When properly done, criminal profiling focuses on the behavioral and behavioral characteristics of the individual, which in the investigation of a crime, or its prevention, helps indicate the type of person who is more likely to have committed or commit a crime. In many cases, the creation of an offender’s profile is only called in whenever law enforcement has exhausted all other possible leads (Ibe, et al, 2012). The use of profiling suggests the type of individual who may have committed the crime in question by focusing on specific characteristics and behaviors. Curiously enough, in some cases the profiling correlates to the actual criminal, although in many instances criminal profiling is based on any existing bias against communities of certain socioeconomic and racial background.

Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it is provided that “No State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV § 1. Soon after the September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration invoked broad notions of executive power with the aim of fighting what was called the “War on Terror” (Rudovsky & Banks, 2007). As a result of this, many individuals were subjected to electronic surveillance, incarceration, treatment as an enemy combatant, alternative interrogation practices, and limits of habeas corpus. This association of terror with Islam and Muslims became a growing concern for many Americans, especially as the new laws that related to terrorism and counterterrorism tested the nation’s ideas about discrimination, racial profiling, and human rights. One of the major issues related to the profiling of Arabs and Muslims related to the fact that those profiled could be placed on either side of the suspect description/profiling divide (Banks, 2004).

As a direct result from the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks, America saw the emergence of the U.S. Patriot Act as a new tool in the War on Terror. The Patriot Act included national security policies that arguably restricted the civil liberties of citizens and were found to violate the U.S. Constitution (Pitt, 2011). Reliance on the Act made Muslims in America vulnerable to unreasonable searches and to be targeted as terrorists, usually during profiling by law enforcement agencies. Some of the incidents involving racial profiling would take place in airports, financial institutions, schools, jobs, and most public areas. Even though the objective of the Patriot Act was to deter and punish any types of terrorist actions both at a national and international levels, it also served as a form of open discrimination and harassment toward individual of Arab descent, Muslims, and any foreigner who was not deemed “American” enough. Notwithstanding the fact that clauses in the Patriot Act prohibit profiling and discrimination toward Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims, lawsuits and law enforcement reports demonstrate that these sections of the Act have not been fully adhered to, at many levels.

Legal precedence has found that the government may use some form of racial profiling or classification during times of national emergency in order to improve the war effort and to protect the security of our nation. The reasoning behind it lies on the fact that if saving the lives of American citizens and protecting the country’s infrastructure, along with winning a war, were not a case of compelling interest, then nothing was. In the fight against terrorism, research and investigations have shown that the number of Arab or Muslim men directly associated with terrorist groups amount to hundreds. In addition, there are thousands of others who have been suspected of either having information about terrorist activity, or of protecting it or supporting it to some degree. The efforts of law enforcement to thwart terrorism has led to racial and criminal profiling, as the threat of terrorism is a day to day reality, that affects the ordinary citizen in many ways. While some aspects of racial profiling do result in the investigation of thousands of innocent Muslims and Arabs, and further stigmatizes entire groups as potential terrorists, it also helps in the effort to prevent terrorists from achieving acts of terror and violence (Banks,).

Caselaw and research have shown that the courts have found the implication of equal protection during law enforcement investigations related to terrorism, and focused on racial and ethnic classifications, depends on whether the agencies conducting the investigation have identified a suspect, or a group of suspects, for which race is an identifying characteristic, and who are linked to a particular action that has been threatened or has occurred (Clegg & Noreika, 2003). Therefore, when the government is presumed to possess compelling interest in the identification of terrorists, which would in turn lead to the protection of lives and the support of the war effort, then racial or criminal profiling becomes a great tool in these endeavors. The main questions related to this issue rest on whether the circumstances surrounding the actions of the law enforcement agencies do involve improper racial classifications, or the whether these efforts have been tailored to protect citizenry or just discriminate toward a particular group. The biggest issue on this matter refers to the fact that race and ethnicity does allow for a narrowing of the suspect pool, while at the same time creates a potential case for discrimination or harassment.

Nevertheless, numerous law enforcement statistics demonstrate that criminal profiling can be a successful tool in the war against crime. In the context of antiterrorism investigations, the profiling is more likely to take place in groups that have been formerly associated with criminal behavior. While this type of profiling can be harmful and usually leads to discrimination and abuse, it has also been proven effective in identifying suspects and in preventing new acts of violence and terror. The job of law enforcement agencies is to review all reports and discern which intelligence or information provides a valid reason to investigate a group or individual, and which report should be considered innocuous. When national security and the lives of citizens are at stake, racial profiling cannot be considered wrong or immoral. The fact that there have been legitimate racial and ethnic factors in determining association or participation in a terrorist group allows for the implementation, albeit temporarily, of practices and laws that otherwise could be found to be unconstitutional. The real answer to the ongoing issues related to criminal profiling is the fact that at times race and ethnicity has played a role in violence and terror, and that the correlation between the individual’s background and his actions have been proven to be an effective tool in the protection of our society and its members.”

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Law Enforcement Against Crime. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from