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Racial Profiling and Searches: Did the Politics of Racial Profiling Change Police Behavior?

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 8 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2009 Pages: 343-369
Date Published
May 2009
27 pages

Using data in the search and citation file of the North Carolina Highway Traffic Study, the research reported in this article examined whether the politics generated by the media coverage of racial profiling and racial-profiling legislation in North Carolina influenced the search practices of officers on the North Carolina State Highway Patrol's (NCSHP's) drug interdiction team.


The study found that the size of racial disparity in searches of Black and White drivers declined across the study period. The decline was closely associated with the politics generated by racial profiling. The media played a major role in weakening police enforcement efforts, presumably because individual troopers became more aware of racial bias and senior officers were encouraged to monitor officer behavior closely. Senate Bill 76, which increased the monitoring of the NCSHP by the State legislature, led to more due process in searches, which increased the use of probable cause to justify searches and decreased the number of discretionary searches. As discretionary searches of Black and White drivers declined, "hit" rates for finding evidence in searches increased. These findings suggest that police agencies should consistently monitor the policing strategies of their officers, since this apparently encourages officers to manage their behavior to avoid allegations of racial profiling. Relevant data on traffic stops and searches should be collected and analyzed regularly, and supervisors should become familiar with the data, so as to be aware of and respond appropriately to the stop-and-search patterns of their officers. The study first established the size of racial disparity in searches and hit rates in 1997. This was followed with an examination of the racial composition of search activity. Analyses were limited to consent and probable-cause searches. 1 figure, 8 tables, and 39 references

Date Published: May 1, 2009