ByGeorge! Online

May 15, 2003

GW Study Explores Profiling Response

Professors Weitzer and Tuch Find Racial Profiling Viewed
as Widespread Across America

By Eric Solomon

A large gulf separates members of minority populations and whites on the issue of racial profiling, according to a recent poll of African Americans, Hispanics, and whites released by Ronald Weitzer and Steven Tuch, professors of sociology. Almost half of African Americans in the sample and a quarter of Hispanics believe that they have been the victims of racial profiling by police. Significant numbers of both African Americans and Hispanics also report that someone in their household has experienced profiling: a third of African Americans and a fifth of Hispanics. Almost no whites believe that they have been subjected to racial profiling.

The nationally representative survey of African Americans, Hispanics, and whites living in urban and suburban areas of the US was funded by the National Institute of Justice and completed in December 2002 as part of a public opinion poll focusing on police practices and behavior. Results of the research are contained in a new report, “Racial Profiling in America: The Public’s Perceptions and Experiences,” and will be presented by Weitzer and Tuch at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research in Nashville this month. The duo will spend the next academic year writing a book based on the research.

The poll indicated substantial consensus that racial profiling is wrong: nine in 10 African Americans and three-quarters of whites and Hispanics disapprove of the practice. Moreover, most of those who disapprove of profiling appear to be strongly attached to this position, even when confronted with the hypothetical possibility that profiling “works.” Respondents who disapprove of profiling were asked, “Suppose studies show that racial profiling helps to catch criminals. Would you still disapprove of profiling?” Clear majorities of African Americans, whites, and Hispanics said they would still disapprove of the practice.

Among those who approve of profiling, by contrast, approval is somewhat softer. Those who initially approved of profiling exhibited a greater tendency to change their views if confronted by evidence showing profiling to be ineffective at catching criminals (the hypothetical that “racial profiling does not help to catch criminals”). Sixty-two percent of African Americans, 53 percent of Hispanics, and 58 percent of whites said they would no longer approve of the practice under this condition.

The findings are part of a larger study of citizen opinions of the police. The sample consisted of 1,792 respondents 18 years of age and older. In addition to racial profiling, the study also examined other types of police misconduct, community policing, and support for various reforms in police practices.


Send feedback to:

GW News Center

Related Link