Racial Profiling: The Myth that Never Dies
The ACLU says the debate is over. Is it really?


More than seven years ago, Heather Mac Donald wrote “The Myth of Racial Profiling” for the Manhattan Institute’s quarterly, City Journal. “The anti-profiling crusade,” Mac Donald wrote, “thrives on an ignorance of policing and a willful blindness to the demographics of crime.” This ignorance persists, and last week saw the arrival of yet another shining example of it. But, unlike the bleating from such charlatans as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, this latest bit of ignorance comes cloaked in the legitimizing finery of Ivy League science.

Last Monday, the ACLU of Southern California released a report titled “A Study of Racially Disparate Outcomes in the Los Angeles Police Department,” by Ian Ayres, a professor at Yale Law School, and Jonathan Borowsky, formerly a research assistant at Yale Law School and currently a student at Harvard Law School. The study examined data collected during pedestrian and vehicle stops made by LAPD officers from July 2003 to June 2004. “We find prima facie evidence,” write Ayres and Borowsky, “that African Americans and Hispanics are over-stopped, over-frisked, over-searched, and over-arrested.” Among their more detailed conclusions are these:

Per 10,000 residents, the black stop rate is 3,400 stops higher than the white stop rate, and the Hispanic stop rate is almost 360 stops higher.

Relative to stopped whites, stopped blacks are 127% more likely and stopped Hispanics are 43% more likely to be frisked.

Relative to stopped whites, stopped blacks are 76% more likely and stopped Hispanics are 16% more likely to be searched.

Relative to stopped whites, stopped blacks are 29% more likely and stopped Hispanics are 32% more likely to be arrested.

Damning stuff, says the ACLU, which commissioned the study. In an accompanying letter to the Los Angeles police commission, ACLU staff attorney Peter Bibring writes that “Prof. Ayres’s report ends debate about the existence of the problem and validates the experience in communities of color of police interactions attributable to ‘driving while black’ or ‘driving while brown.’”


First of all, to claim that a study commissioned by an interest group, especially one as driven by ideology as the ACLU, is so irrefutably grounded in fact as to end debate on the matter is the very height of arrogance. Furthermore, the Ayres report has been neither peer-reviewed nor published in any scientific journal. That the report’s conclusions reflect the beliefs of the organization that paid for it should come as a surprise to no one. Indeed, the ACLU may have selected Mr. Ayres on the basis of his keen ability to detect racial bias nearly everywhere he looks. He has previously published books and articles on the hidden racial components involved in setting bail, purchasing automobiles, and tipping taxicab drivers.

Also, if the ACLU had truly been intent on ending the debate, they might have chosen a researcher whose résumé is less blemished by controversy. Last October, the Yale Daily News reported that Ayres’s latest book, Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart, contained passages that were “unattributed verbatim reproductions or nearly identical paraphrases of passages from various newspaper and magazine articles published in the last twenty years.” Ayres apologized for the “errors,” and said his publisher would make the appropriate changes in any future printings of the book.

Putting aside niggling questions of citations and quotations marks in his earlier work, Ayres’s report on the LAPD should stand or fall on its own merits. The reader can well imagine what my own opinion on the report might be, but my position as an LAPD officer may invite skepticism as to my objectivity. So I invited a respected academian to read the Ayres report and offer his opinion on its research methods and conclusions.