Everybody profiles. Whether people will admit it or not, it’s human nature.
In 1999, after I’d published a Miami Herald article justifying the act of profiling in some circumstances, I was interviewed by ABC’s John Stossel who was doing a 20/20 program on the topic. I soon realized he was formulating questions designed to make me seem racist. I was telling him that, in certain circumstances, profiling is a necessary element for effective police work. I turned the tables and posed a question back.
“John, when you first heard about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, what was the first thing that came into your mind?”
His eyebrows lifted. “Arabs,” he said.
“John, you just profiled.”
The producer shouted, “Cut!”
The interview never aired. But I had made my point.
Sometimes, suspicion can be hard to define. Body language. Dress. Movement. Yet, suspicion is, and should be, an integral part of policing.
A car weaving across lanes of traffic after midnight is a profile for drunk driving. A parade of shoddy looking men and women frequenting a tenement apartment at all hours of the night is a possible profile for drug activity. A derelict, any color, stumbling around filthy and half-dressed in an upscale housing development is a profile, a sign that something is out of place. Two teenage kids cruising around in a $70,000 car, where ninety-nine percent of the residents are another ethnic/racial make-up, is a profile. Sorry.
If crimes have been reported describing a Mid-eastern looking male, black beard, mid-east accent, should we stop and frisk all redheads, pimple-faced teens and one-legged war veterans, just to be fair?
George Zimmerman’s neighborhood had been victimized by a number of thefts and break-ins. Judging by those who had been apprehended and/or under suspicion, the profile of the perpetrators were young black males.
In 1979-81, Atlanta’s serial child killer was profiled by possible witnesses to be a young black male. The cops used that profile to pursue the investigation. That’s good police work.
In order to appease the Islamic world, American airports routinely grope and search little grandmas from Iowa, wheelchair cripples, girl scouts and even celebrities to show how the authorities are not profiling Muslims or mid-eastern people. Yet, in truth, 97 percent of all international terrorism is rooted in Islam.
We could be adopting the model of the safest airline system in the world; El Al. Israel makes no apologies. They do not grope or X-ray every man, woman and child. They follow a few simple rules:
1) Agents ask passengers a short series of questions — four or five — to determine origin, nationality and other factors, then observe the physical manner and characteristics. Though unspoken, yet in truth, Muslims and/or Arabs will get a second look before non-Muslims. If there is any doubts about a passenger, they X-ray or search further.
2) An armed Air Marshal is aboard every flight. Terrorists know this in advance. It changes the game plan for terrorists knowing that armed security is on board.
Israel is hated throughout the Arab states. Yet, El Al has never had a terror attack.
Bottom line:. Profiling works. Israel profiles passengers, especially Muslims. Why? Because Islamic radicalism is the profile for international terrorists.
Indiscriminate profiling based on race is absolutely unacceptable. But when a series of crimes have been linked to a certain description, which includes race, police would be remiss in doing their job if they did not profile. Profiling solves crime, prevents crime and makes our community safer. That’s the job of security and police.
Police officers and security personnel of the 21st century walk an insidious tightrope, teetering between doing their jobs and protecting their butts, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” I subscribe to the old adage: Better safe than sorry. Better to harass a few people now and then if it translates to protecting innocent people from rape, robbery and murder. Isn’t that what a cop is paid for?
People who are fast to accuse and put cops on the defensive are not serving their communities. They are contributing to law enforcement paranoia and their reluctance to be proactive.
Meanwhile, the airport experience could be streamlined and made more efficient. Homeland Security and the TSA could learn a lot from the success of others.
No. That would be intelligent.