Central to the ongoing debate regarding racial profiling is the balance of the protection of public safety with the protection of individual liberty. In the original context, the potential gains in public safety to be realized by intercepting bulk drugs before they could be distributed might justify the tightly controlled use of an otherwise intrusive police tool. The contemporary focus of research ignores quantity, focusing instead on the appropriateness of a “hit rate” based on any quantity of drugs as a justification.
A decade after the New Jersey Turnpike shooting that revived the racial profiling controversy, the use of profiling continues, and continues to be problematic. Questions of the accuracy and precision of application remain unanswered: Given the local control of police agencies, the questions are revisited on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, it is likely that the police have become more astute, both politically and scientifically, in their ability to articulate the reasoning processes of individual officers, and the patterns of agency-wide actions.While that possibility invites the reaction that “the police have become better liars,” it is equally possible that the police are becoming better at identifying and articulating the subtle behaviors that they observe, giving a more valid operational definition to the prized “sixth sense” of the street cop.
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