Racial Profiling May Increase Transgressions by Whites

Hackney, A. A., & Glaser, J. (2013). Reverse deterrence in racial profiling: Increased transgressions by nonprofiled Whites. Law and Human Behavior. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000038

There is much evidence of racial profiling in the United States, targeting African Americans and Latino/as in particular. According to Hackney and Glaser (2013, p.1), racial profiling occurs when members of specific groups are “subjected to stops and searches by police at rates disproportionate to their representation in the population and their rates of offending.” These authors explain that support for racial profiling comes from its presumed deterrent effect for groups perceived as more likely to commit a crime. This is the idea that the likelihood of an individual committing a crime will decrease as the likelihood and/or severity of the punishment increases. In addition to the negative consequences of racial profiling for those targeted, Hackney and Glaser hypothesized that racial profiling may also have a reverse deterrent effect on individuals who are not profiled, in that they will perceive their likelihood of receiving punishment as reduced and may thus feel freer to commit crimes without consequences. To test this hypothesis, the authors developed an experiment in which participants were subtly motivated to cheat on an anagram test under several conditions. White participants were most likely to cheat in a condition in which two Black confederates were racially profiled (explicitly monitored by the experimenter). These results do not seem to be due to the racial composition of the group since the elevated cheating rates were not found in a group with similar composition, but no profiling. The results support the authors’ hypothesized reverse deterrent effect and suggest that on the whole, racial profiling may do more to increase than decrease criminal activity.

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Media Supplement

The website of the ACLU's Campaign Against Racial Profiling, includes links to stories of racial profiling as well as key definitions and statistical information.

In these two brief videos, on NPR’s Code Switch Blog, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder discuss their own experiences with racial profiling. The Code Switch Blog addresses issues of race, culture, and ethnicity.