Not all police profiling is race-based or wrong headed
© Greg Nash

 

Behavioral recognition has received some media attention as the TSA has announced they, like their counterparts in other countries, use behavioral recognition on the job. Behavioral recognition in policing is quite different, as it requires an almost innate combination of training and on-the-job experience  to come together and form an opinion on what may be illicit activity or what may be just normal behavior on that particular beat at that particular time.

The problem in today’s politically correct society is that much of behavioral recognition can also be labeled “profiling”. It is extremely important to remember that profiling itself is not racial profiling, which is a violation of one’s civil rights. Knowing your “beat,” or the area in where you work, along with who lives and frequents that area and what behaviors are normal in that area are all vital components to being a good patrol officer. When you second guess these instincts/observations for political reasons, you put the community at risk.

 

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If a law enforcement officer is profiling based solely on race, then he's a bad cop, not only in the legal sense but in the sense that they are being lazy and incompetent on the job. Knowing crime patterns and putting a definitive profile of criminal behaviors together to be on the lookout for is a proven tactic that has been effective in addressing crime for generations. The problem is, as is evident in watching the news media report on local crime of late; officials are trying to remove all mention of race as a component in describing criminals or criminal patterns.

The difference between racial profiling and criminal profiling rests with the various circumstances that the law enforcement officer uses to make an educated decision on whether to take investigative action (like a stop, frisk, etc). Imagine that you’re a New Jersey Trooper on the midnight shift and you’ve effected a traffic stop on a vehicle for speeding, but note that the driver is a young male from New York in a rental car heading northbound on the Turnpike, with a the rental agreement showing that the vehicle was just rented a couple of days before in New York. Now, your training tells you that the majority of illegal firearms trafficked in New York, New Jersey, and points north are straw-purchased or stolen and smuggled north via the New Jersey Turnpike from southern states. The rental agreement tells you that the vehicle was just rented for the trip. Would you run the driver for criminal history, interview the driver as to where they came from and maybe search the car? If you were profiling correctly, each piece of this puzzle would lead to your coming to the next course of action. The driver’s behavior and what information was gleaned in each step may dictate what your next course of action may be. That isn’t about race, it’s about good policing.

In contrast, imagine that you’re on the same shift as an officer in a small town near New Orleans and your agency’s standard operating procedure is to arbitrarily conduct traffic stops on African American motorists passing through that town at night. That's obviously wrong, as there would be no other reasonable suspicion for the stop (such as speeding), and no active criminal profile (such as the pattern of arrests and statistics about the firearms trafficking) to justify the stop.

The profiling and behavioral recognition argument is a big reason why the “stop & frisk” program is such a contentious issue for Americans, especially those from New York. The NYPD has the most oversight of any law enforcement agency in America, and invented the COMPSTAT program used for statistics-based policing around the world. To try and enforce illegal weapons, they set up “stop and frisk” checkpoints in neighborhoods where the statistics showed there were violent crimes and guns. If the vast percentages of those using and carrying illegal firearms meet a specific age, race, and sexual demographic and the stats in the area show that there's a likely connection; is that racial profiling?  No, that's metric-driven policing. However, the argument became emotional and became a campaign promise in Mayor Bill De Blasio’s identity politics-laden mayoral bid. Upon his election, the program was disbanded and since it's been gone, Part One crimes, including shootings have risen in the very communities where stop-and-frisk checkpoints were deployed. Therefore, the true judges on the effectiveness of that program are the crime statistics in the communities themselves.

So, a law enforcement officer in an open-carry jurisdiction can judge, through regular encounters with legal gun owners, what types of carry is normal for a law-abiding gun owner and what isn’t.  Is that weapon holstered? Is it being carried safely? Do they know the citizen carrying it? Does, the citizen advise the officer of the weapon and keep their hands away from the weapon awaiting the officer’s instruction when stopped? The answer is within the experience of the officers being second-guessed on a daily basis. When you  ask citizens and law enforcement officers to second guess their experience and training on what may or may not be a viable threat against them, the results can be dangerous to society.

Think back to every mass shooter story you've ever read, or the 9/11 attackers who resided in Delray Beach, FL for flight training. Each story had a local resident or acquaintance to the assailant say something to the effect of "yeah, I thought something was strange but didn't say anything". Of course, if they had said something, lives may have possibly been saved. Now, when the Department of Justice comes into a city and starts asking for every citizen contact to be articulated by the officers on the street, it puts those officers in a position where they shift from proactive policing to reactive policing; this is when violent crime goes up.

Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Pierce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Follow him on Twitter @PublicSafetySME


 

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