As you learn more about racially-biased policing you may find words or phrases that are unfamiliar. Here is an ever-growing list of definitions of common words related to this issue. The majority of these definitions were taken from the New Era Public Safety guide, written by the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights. 

The act of seizing a person to take into custody.  An arrest must be based on probable cause.

Asset forfeiture
A civil proceeding to permanently seize property that has been used for criminal activity.

Prejudice in favor of or against a person or a group compared to another.

Bias-based policing
Any action a police officer takes that is influenced by bias (explicit or implicit), prejudice, or discrimination.

Body cavity search
A search that involves inspection of a body cavity (i.e., rectum, vagina).

Broken windows policing
An approach to law enforcement that assumes that enforcement of minor offenses will prevent future crime.

A planned activity, or set of activities, carried out, over a period of time with the purpose of achieving social or political change.

A physical, hands-on maneuver that cuts off the supply of oxygen to the brain.

A violation given to an accused offender from a police officer that states the charge, requirement, or choice to appear in court, depending on the offense, and subject to punishment for failure to appear. Also, casually known as a “ticket”.

Civilian oversight board
A formal collection of community members that aim to hold police officers and police departments accountable for their actions and policies. Oversight bodies should represent all sectors of a community, including those disproportionately targeted by policing.

Class action lawsuit
A lawsuit that seeks to establish a pattern or practice of an ongoing problem within a police department by showing multiple examples of the issue at hand. Typically, the goal of a class action lawsuit is to prompt change in policy or training at a department.

A group of several individuals or organizations, who share an interest in a particular issue and come together to work on that issue.

Color of law
Conduct both on and off duty that is facilitated by the authority vested in police officers, including through official vehicles, equipment, or information.

Community policing
A holistic approach to law enforcement in which police departments actively build meaningful relationships with community members to improve public safety and advance community goals.

 Consensus (or modified consensus)
A decision-making process wherein everyone in the group agrees to allow a decision to be made before the group moves forward. In contrast to majority rules decision-making processes, consensuses ensure that all voices and opinions in the room are heard. In modified consensuses, a group strives for consensus whenever possible but may resort to majority rules if consensus cannot be achieved.

Consent decree
A court-ordered agreement that outlines changes that police departments must make to comply with the U.S. Constitution. Often, independent monitors oversee consent decrees.

Goods that have been imported or exported illegally

Crisis response
An approach to policing that diverts individuals experiencing mental health crisis or substance use disorders from standard criminal justice processing at the front end and directing them instead to appropriate treatment settings.

Critical incident
An individual incident of excessive or lethal force or police misconduct. Individuals and organizations promoting police reform often use critical incidents to put pressure on officials to make necessary changes to policing policies and practices as well as to increase accountability and oversight.

The process of removing or reducing a criminal classification, usually by establishing a preference for issuing a warning or summons rather than making an arrest.

De-escalation training
Reduction of the intensity of a conflict or potentially violent situation.

 Deliberative process privilege
Privilege that protects information about internal decision-making processes in an agency to enable decision-makers to express themselves candidly and explore different solutions before settling on a final policy or decision.

A program that implements rehabilitative strategies and services instead of traditional criminal punishment.

Eluding arrest
Failing to come to a stop or elude or attempt to pull over for a marked official law enforcement vehicle driven by a uniformed peace officer after a visual or audible signal was given to stop.

Equipment violations
Violation of a statute, ordinance, or the rule relating to traffic movement and control that involves equipment, vehicles, drivers, owners, or pedestrians, and miscellaneous offenses not categorized elsewhere.

Explicit bias
Attitudes and beliefs we have about a person or group on a conscious level. Expressions of explicit of bias (discrimination, hate speech, etc.) occur as the result of deliberate thought.

External procedural justice
Practices and relationships that demonstrate fairness and respect outside a police department (i.e., between the police department and the community).

The application of physical strength for coercive purposes. Police use of force can range from the use of hands, legs, batons, or other equipment, including vehicles, handcuffs, restraints, pepper spray, tear gas, water cannons, canines, Tasers, and firearms.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Request A formal request for full or partial disclosure on request of information and documents the government controls. The federal government and all 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws mandating that information that public agencies and officials keep be made available on request to members of the public. Individuals or groups can issue a FOIA request for information about policies, data, or the structure of a police department. Read more about FOIA at

A pat-down or search of a person’s outer clothing. A frisk must be based on a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person being frisked of the frisk is armed and presents a danger to a police officer during a lawful investigatory stop. Unless the police officer feels something that could be a weapon through the outer clothing, they cannot go inside a person’s pockets or under the person’s hat or other clothing during a frisk (See “Stop-and-Frisk”).

The socially constructed set of characteristics typically associated with a “gender binary” in Western-dominant culture or two dominantly accepted gender expressions of masculinity and femininity. Many cultures, including cultures indigenous to the United States, recognize more than two genders. Gender is not defined by biological sex characteristics.

Gender expression
An external manifestation of gender, expressed through a person’s name, personal pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics. Western-dominant culture identifies these cues as masculine or feminine, although they vary by culture.

Gender identity
A person’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not visible to others. Gender identity is not immutable; it may shift over time.

Gender nonconforming
A term used to describe people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity.

Restraining a person in a prone position by tying their wrists and ankles together behind them.

Implicit bias
When we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge.

Interference with official acts
When a person knowingly resists or obstructs the execution of anyone known by the offender to be a peace officer, in the performance of any act within the scope of the lawful duty or authority of the officer.

A gender-neutral and inclusive term used to refer to people of Central or South American descent.

Law Enforcement Bill of Rights
State laws that limit and set conditions on investigations of police misconduct and discipline, including limitations on public release of information.

Law enforcement privilege
Privilege that allows law enforcement agencies to withhold information about current investigations or information that, if released, would interfere with legitimate law enforcement interests.

Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning.

Standing, hanging out, or lingering in a public place. Many jurisdictions have statutes or ordinances against loitering that give police the power to arrest someone who refuses to vacate the space.

Mandatory Arrest: Laws The legal duty of police to make an arrest when responding to intimate partner violence calls if they find probable cause to believe an offense has been committed.

The person who initiates a lawsuit or makes a legal complaint.

Police union
Like other workforce unions, police unions represent individual police officers and negotiate union contracts with police departments, including provisions on discipline and accountability. Police unions often take an active role in advocating for legislation and policies favorable to police officers.

Political education
A collective study process to bring greater clarity to historical factors that have affected marginalized or oppressed people and led to current societal or political conditions. Such education incorporates and builds on people’s lived experiences to draw larger connections to the world around them. It often includes the study of popular movements for social change and may lend greater clarity, for example, to questions about the role of racism and other oppressions in present day policing.

Positional asphyxia
Death that results from being placed in a position that interferes with the ability to breathe.

Predictive policing
Use of data and computer systems to automatically forecast where and when crime will occur.

Pre-textual stops
Police pulling over a driver for a minor offense with intent to investigate a separate, unrelated, suspected offense.

Pretextual stops
A stop that a police officer makes, with or without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, that allows the officer to then investigate a separate, unrelated, or suspected criminal offense.

Private right of action
An individual’s right to sue a police officer or department.

Proactive policing
Policing strategies intended to prevent or reduce crime. (See “Predictive Policing.”)

Probable cause
A belief, based on specific facts, that would lead a reasonable police officer to conclude that it is likely that a person has broken a law.

Procedural justice
A term used to describe treating individuals fairly and respectfully during police interactions. (See “External Procedural Justice” and “Internal Procedural Justice.”)

The act of generalizing a person or group of people based on personal attributes. In the policing context, profiling refers to the act of presuming that a person or group of people are involved in criminal activity. Profiling can be based on intentional discrimination or widely held biases and beliefs that certain types of people are more likely to break the law or do harm than others.

Racial profiling
Police suspecting someone for committing a crime based on race.

Reasonable articulable suspicion (or reasonable suspicion)
A legal standard for an officer to perform a search; it must be based on facts known to the officer at the time of the search and must be more than a “hunch” or a profile.

Reasonable suspicion vs. probable cause
Justifiable suspicion that a person has recently committed a crime, is in the process of committing a crime, or is soon going to commit a crime versus reasonable grounds for making a search, pressing a charge.

Search warrant
A legal document authorizing the search of a home or business.

Sexual orientation
A scientifically accurate term for an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, or emotional attraction to other people.

Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT)
Highly militarized teams created to handle hostage, active shooter situations, terrorism and, in certain situations, to execute drug warrants.

When police temporarily detain somebody and pat down their outer clothing when there are specific, articulable facts leading a reasonable police officer to believe that a person is armed and dangerous. Stop-and-frisk is also sometimes referred to as a “Terry stop,” derived from the U.S. Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, which decided that stop-and-frisk must comply with the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and cannot be unreasonable. (See “Frisk.”)

A broad plan for achieving a goal.

Strip search
A search that involves partial or full removal of a person’s clothing.

A planned action, task, or procedure used to fulfill a strategy.

A weapon that delivers electric currents to disrupt voluntary control of muscles, causing temporary paralysis.

Terry stop
The authorized, temporary detainment of an individual based on an officer’s suspicion he or she is involved in illegal activity. Read more information about Terry stops.

An umbrella term for people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex assigned at birth.

A document issued by legal or government officials authorizing the police or other law enforcement to make arrest, search premises, or carry other actions relating to the administration of justice.