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Racial Profiling and Postmodern Society: Police Responsiveness, Image Maintenance, and the Left Flank of Police Legitimacy

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 23 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2007 Pages: 248-262
Kirk Miller
Date Published
August 2007
15 pages
This article critiques the approach by police departments in implementing data collection programs designed to document the situational characteristics of traffic stops.
Racial profiling data collection programs provide a measure of accountability to police and provide society with a relatively rare window on police decisions and their outcomes. However, certain benchmark strategies, such as roadway observations, would contribute to the electronic surveillance regime characteristics of postmodernity. The cost in privacy, even in public places, might outweigh the gains in the ability to draw stronger conclusions about police traffic stop practices. Racial profiling is among the most important challenges to the legitimacy of law enforcement agencies in the United States. In response to concerns about racial profiling, police departments have taken a number of approaches to address the threat to legitimacy that racial profiling poses. Among the most common approaches, and one that citizens, policymakers, and scholars have all supported, is the implementation of data collections programs designed to document the situational characteristics of traffic stops. This article argues that this approach is limited in its effectiveness. It argues that police interest in documenting and preventing racial profiling is driven by concerns about developing and maintaining the perception of responsiveness to the public. Police strategy, ironically, uses technology and science to enhance institutional legitimacy. Tables, notes, and references