Tips for dealing with police and understanding your rights
Good police practices, thorough training, carefully crafted policies and appropriate allocation of resources in law enforcement can ensure public safety and prevent abuses in encounters between police officers and citizens. Unfortunately, across the nation patterns of racial profiling, the selective enforcement of laws against people of color and disturbing stop-and-frisk policies have resulted in a disproportionate effect on certain communities, with people of color coming in contact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system at far greater rates that white people.
In addition to our work to promote fair and effective police practices, the ACLU has defended the rights of police officers, firefighters and corrections officers throughout the nation. For examples of the ACLU’s legal advocacy on behalf of law enforcement officials, go here.
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.
> The ACLU Campaign Against Racial Profiling: The ACLU fights law enforcement and private security practices that disproportionately target people of color for investigation and enforcement.
> The Three Faces of Racial Profiling Blog Series: This series seeks to shine a light upon the damage that racial profiling has done to many Americans. At its core, racial profiling is about discrimination, not about the health and safety of keeping our communities or our country.
> Driving While Black: Racial Profiling On Our Nation's Highways (1999 Report): This report presents strong and compelling evidence of both an anecdotal and statistical nature that racial profiling on our nation’s roads and highways is indeed a nationwide problem. As such, it demands a nationwide solution.
> Racial Profiling & The LAPD: A Study of Racially Disparate Outcomes in the Los Angeles Police Department (Report): A report commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California shows that black and Hispanic residents are stopped, frisked, searched and arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers at dramatically disproportionate rates compared to white residents –demonstrating the need for the LAPD to eliminate biased policing.
> Civil Asset Forfeiture: Every year, federal and state law enforcement agents seize millions of dollars from civilians during traffic stops, simply by asserting that they believe the money is connected to some illegal activity and without ever pursuing criminal charges. Under federal law and the laws of most states, they are entitled to keep most (and sometimes all) of the money and property they seize.
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.
> Maryland: Policy on Conducted Energy Devices and Best Practices Guidelines (.pdf)
> ACLU of Northern California: Stun Gun Fallacy: How the Lack of Taser Regulation Endangers Lives
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.
> Petition to investigate Denver PD
> Petition to investigate San Jose PD
> Know Your Rights: What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI: We rely on the police to keep us all safe and treat us all fairly, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion. This card provides tips for interacting with police and understanding your rights.