The fact is that in policing society, criminal profiling can be effective only in case it follows the three specific criteria: (1) it works to reduce crime; (2) it does not lead to racial inequality and (3) its cost does not overweigh its economic benefits (Harcourt, 2004), and if economic costs can be monitored and controlled, crime reduction and racial inequality remain the two essential obstacles on the way to law enforcement excellence. Objectively, and depending on specific legal conditions, race can serve the central element of criminal profiling procedures.
Given the prevailing majority of Hispanic and African American prisoners, it is natural law enforcement professionals use race to reflect the current demographic distributions in society (Harcourt, 2004), but at this point of criminal profiling implementation another issue comes into place. Law enforcement professionals falsely assume that different racial groups would react similarly to similar forms of policing (Harcourt, 2007). In other words, where law enforcement agencies would apply criminal profiling to specific population groups (e. g.
, Hispanic), they would also expect to receive similar responses from other non-Hispanic population layers. In reality, this assumption is at least erroneous, and the effectiveness of criminal profiling directly depends on the so-called “elasticity of offending to policing” (Harcourt, 2007). These effects are readily visible through the prism of race. On the one hand, targeting African American car dealers for financial crimes will make all African American car dealers more cautious in their tax behaviors, and will reduce the amount of those who violate tax legislation.
On the other hand, by limiting the scope of criminal profiling to African-Americans, law enforcement professionals develop policing immunity in other population groups; and non-African Americans who are less likely to become criminal profiling targets will be more prone to use criminal and deviant behaviors to achieve their individual objectives. As a result, the overall efficiency of criminal profiling will be almost zeroed. Does that mean that the idea of criminal profiling is irrelevant and ineffective in itself?
Does it also mean that criminal profiling can hardly find its place in the system of criminal law procedures? Generally, criminal profiling could serve law enforcement needs only if more specific criteria of race, ethnicity, and finally, the ultimate profiling objectives are developed and used. It should be noted, that whenever criminal profiling is used, law enforcement professionals appear unable to determine what the ultimate success of criminal profiling is – to deter, to stop, to detect, or to arrest?
Moreover, “criminal profiling tends to accentuate the prejudices and biases that are built into the penal code” (Harcourt, 2004). Thus, the problem of racial bias goes beyond the boundaries of criminal profiling and should be addressed at all levels of the criminal justice system. Finally, the rates of uncovering criminal behaviors are almost equal among all population groups; as a result, using race or ethnic background as the central profiling criteria does not make any sense (Harcourt, 2004). The major issue of criminal profiling is in promoting stereotypes and prejudice.
The effectiveness of criminal profiling depends on numerous legal and ethical factors, but primarily, criminal profiling can be used by law enforcement professionals to identify the critical points of inequality and bias. Improving efficiency of crime deterrence procedures is impossible without eliminating these points of demographic distortion. Unless we are able to avoid these racial and ethnic, as well as age and gender distortions, we will not be able to use criminal profiling as the instrument of crime reduction. Conclusion
The idea of criminal profiling is good in itself, but in its current state criminal profiling stands out as the source of racial inequality and bias. It appears that the principles of criminal profiling do not work to eliminate the current demographic distortions but only aggravate them. As a result, the effectiveness of criminal profiling in policing society will depend on whether we are able to specify its ultimate objectives, the criteria for racial and ethnic judgments, and how prepared we are to avoid racial and ethnic bias at all levels of the criminal justice system.
References Harcourt, B. E. (2004). Rethinking racial profiling: A critique of the economics, civil liberties, and constitutional literature, and of criminal profiling more generally. The University of Chicago Law Review, 71 (4): 1275-1381. Harcourt, B. E. (2007). Against prediction: Profiling, policing, and punishing in an actuarial age. University of Chicago Press.