Police Practices

Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is a practice that offends fundamental principles of our Constitution. Racial profiling disproportionately targets people of color for investigation and enforcement, which alienates communities from law enforcement, hinders community policing efforts, and causes law enforcement to lose credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve. We rely on the police to protect us from harm and expect them to promote fairness and justice in our communities. Racial profiling, however, has placed communities of color in fear and created a racially biased system of law enforcement that casts entire communities as suspect.

Selective Enforcement

The war on drugs has been a war on communities of color. Despite the fact that whites engage in drug offenses at a higher rate than African-Americans, African-Americans are incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate 10 times greater than whites. The selective policing and prosecution of low-level offenses in communities of color has led to huge racial disparities in our criminal justice system – from who is stopped, to who is charged with a crime, to who ends up under correctional control.

  • » [Infographic] Combating Mass Incarceration - The Facts (2011 infographic): An Infographic on Mass Incarceration: America’s criminal justice system should keep communities safe, treat people fairly, and use fiscal resources wisely. But more Americans are deprived of their liberty than ever before - unfairly and unnecessarily, with no benefit to public safety. Especially in the face of economic crisis, our government should invest in humane and fiscally sound alternatives to incarceration that promote the long-term community health and safety and make prisons options of last – not first – resort.
  • » End the War on Drugs: June 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's declaration of a “war on drugs” — a war that has cost roughly a trillion dollars, resulted in 40 million arrests, produced little to no effect on the supply of or demand for drugs in the United States, and contributed to making America the world's largest incarcerator.
  • » Just Say No to the War on Drugs (Video): Comedian Elon James White takes on America’s failed 40-year war on drugs.



Across the nation, the police practice of stopping, frisking, and searching law abiding people - predominantly people of color - raises serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and invasion of privacy rights.

  • » The NYCLU stop-and-frisk campaign: The NYPD’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, the vast majority of whom are black and Latino.
  • » Report: NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Activity in 2011: In this report the NYCLU provides a detailed picture of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program in 2011. This report examines stops, frisks, force, race, the recovery of weapons, and the treatment of the hundreds of thousands of innocent people stopped last year.
  • » Bailey, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, et al.: the ACLU of PA’s case on behalf of eight African-American and Latino men who were stopped by Philadelphia police officers solely on the basis of their race or ethnicity.



Billed by their manufacturer as a non-lethal alternative to deadly force, Tasers are being deployed by a growing number of law enforcement agencies around the country. However, a lack of training and controls has led to several Taser-related deaths. ACLU affiliates around the country have taken on the issue of Taser use and abuse by law enforcement, including issuing the following reports.


DOJ Investigations

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has the authority to investigate police departments to determine whether police officers and departments are abusing their authority, through excessive force, corruption or discrimination against minority populations. Under the Obama administration, DOJ is conducting the largest number of civil rights investigations of police departments in its history. The result of an investigation is the issuance of extensive recommendations by the DOJ about how to best reform the problems plaguing the department under investigation. 

In several cities ACLU affiliates have led the push for DOJ investigations, taking the initiative to document the problem within the community and directly petitioning the DOJ to investigate their police departments. In multiple jurisdictions, DOJ launched investigations and issued findings as a direct result of the work of the ACLU.

Washington State

New Jersey




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