A preliminary investigation of the use of racial/ ethnic categories in emergency telephone calls in the United States

Angela Cora Garcia, Bentley University


This paper uses conversation analysis to investigate how participants in emergency telephone calls in the United States use racial/ethnic categories to describe persons of interest such as suspects, victims, or persons needing assistance. It problematizes the use of racial/ethnic categories in these calls by first analyzing an instance of a caller’s racial profiling (in which racial categories are used to justify the call). This instance of racial profiling is then compared with 15 routine emergency service calls to reveal how callers and call takers routinely introduced racial/ethnic categories. I describe how both deviant and routine uses of these categories could lead to racial profiling and/or displace information that might be more effective in creating useful descriptions of persons of interest. The conclusion addresses ideas for further research and practical implications for emergency telephone call takers and those working to transform the way race is tied to policing in the United States.