The Experiences of Black Police Officers Who Have Been Racially Profiled: an Exploratory Research Note

Abstract

When Black police officers take off their uniform, do they become the target of racial profiling? The purpose of this paper is to report on how minority officers experience racial profiling when out of uniform. It is difficult to reject the accounts of police officers who say that they have been subjected to racial profiling because they, as experts in the field, well understand the policy, procedures, and intricacies of police work. Further, they have much to say about the implementation and continued harms enabled by the practice of profiling. While this work is exploratory in nature, we nonetheless illuminate the following themes: for those who have experienced profiling, there is considerable disbelief by the on duty officer that a Black individual is actually an officer when out of uniform; that Black officers are subject to the same historical racial stereotypes of criminality; and that officers (when out of uniform) are subject to being seen as “interlopers” in predominately “white spaces” and are apt to be aggressively confronted by citizens and police alike for violating these real and symbolic spaces.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Campbell (2017) relayed that many Black officers felt they were targeted for “driving while Black” and that fellow officers used “pretext” to pull them over for unwarranted reasons. In Whren v. United States (1996), the Supreme Court upheld that police officers can use alleged minor motor vehicle violations as a “pretext” to stop and search for a more serious crime. The concern here is that research (Johnson 2010) has found that police officers have used minor motor vehicle violations to stop African American drivers and conduct a search under the “war on drugs campaign” to justify their actions against African Americans.

  2. 2.

    The black officer was hit in the arm; he was treated in the hospital and released. As of this writing, neither officer’s name has been released.

  3. 3.

    Although our method is in keeping with prior studies that have also relied on available reports in the media (Ulsperger and Knottnerus 2011; Byfield 2014), we recognize two limitations of using these data. The first centers on the problem of relying exclusively on news reports, biographical experiences, and commentary by journalistic professionals inasmuch that racial profiling often goes unreported to authorities for fear of retribution or in the belief that such reports will not be taken seriously (Knafo 2016). Second, because our knowledge regarding the experiences of police officials who appear to have been profiled is based most entirely upon (limited) written reports, this study should be considered as exploratory in nature. What is needed is a more thorough survey and grounded qualitative analysis of such experiences.

  4. 4.

    After the incident, the two officers were reprimanded. One officer had his gun and badge stripped from him for being rude and insubordinate to Zeigler after the superior officer identified himself. Again, Zeigler insisted he showed his NYPD identification but said the officers didn’t believe him. The other officer apologized to Zeigler for his partner’s outburst and escaped serious discipline. Zeigler continued to head the Community Affairs Bureau until his retirement in 2010. After retiring from the police, Zeigler served as the New York City’s director of security for the Mass Transit Authority from 2011 to 2013.

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Paul, J., Birzer, M. The Experiences of Black Police Officers Who Have Been Racially Profiled: an Exploratory Research Note. J Afr Am St 21, 567–584 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-017-9382-4

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Keywords

  • Black police officers
  • Racial profiling
  • Stereotyping
  • Bias-based policing