Racial profiling is commonly defined as a situation where race is any one of the factors motivating an officer to stop, search, or arrest a person-of-color. Many law enforcement agencies define racial profiling with more specificity, referring to a situation when a decision is made where race is the only factor explaining a discretionary action. Research suggests there are methods, undetected interactions, and severe job pressures that might allow racial profiling to happen. Over the last 15 years or so, police in the Portland, Oregon metro area have been under intense examination for the fatal shootings of unarmed people-of-color.
Whether racial profiling occurred in any of the fatal shootings is not the focus of this research report. Rather, the purpose of the present research is to assess if officer perceptions of people-of-color are impacted by a currently practiced anti-racial profiling training model in the state of Oregon. Previous research does not appear to have examined anti-racial profiling training in this broad geographical region prior to this study. In the wake of repeated racially-sensitive fatal altercations with people-of-color in Oregon, as recently as 2010, such an examination is overdue and timely to reassure skeptical members of the public that the police continue working toward an equitable multiculturalism.
Primary Research Question
The study seeks to answer three questions:
- Do police officers report their perceptions of people-of-color being impacted as a result of participating in a racial profiling training seminar?
- Do police officers from the state of Oregon express having held a perception of members of the racial/ethnic community as individuals prior to attending a racial profiling training?
- Do police officers from the state of Oregon report having held a stereotyped perception of racial/ethnic community members before attending a racial profiling training?
The case study method is used in this research. The author used both quantitative and qualitative research strategies. Surveys were used to gauge pre and post perceptions of race and ethnicity. The survey instrument was devised to retrieve information about the officers’ thoughts and their assessment of the training before, during, and after attending the seminar. The seminars were led by Oregon law enforcement personnel representing both genders and with white ethnic backgrounds. Of the 68 surveys handed out, 45 were returned from all of the seminars combined. Of those 45 returned, 22 officers provided contact information for the interview phase of the research.
Sample size was minimal and a portion of the population is missing, which leaves a full understanding of the topic open to debate and critique. Another limitation is the absence of gender and ethnic diversity within the sample. The author’s ethnicity and role as interviewer/researcher certainly could have attributed to some bias within the collected data.
The author found that while some officers may be racially prejudiced and others not, there was consensus from those who participated in the training that the training did not impact their personal perceptions of people-of-color. However, the seminars brought police-race issues into their conscious awareness. Despite the training being well-received by all the participants, they suggested the training title and description may have dissuaded other officers from attending who may have benefitted.
Several participants believed senior staff neglect and avoid anti-racial profiling trainings based on previous experience and non-engaging training descriptions; these factors, based on the reported data, appear to contribute to low numbers of officers attending these types of trainings. This directly affects the impact this anti-racial profiling training may have had on members of the police force who did not attend. Changes in how officers perceive these trainings are small but important starting points on the way to fostering the examination of their perceptions of the racial hierarchy.