Prevention and Profiling

by on August 11th, 2005

Due to a recent crime wave by a New York-based Latino gang, which has declared war on the United States and has persistently targeted civilians, law enforcement agencies began random searches of all persons. Experience shows that the modus operandi of the Latino gang is to sneak weapons into a crowded NYC mall and open fire, causing mass casualties. In response to this information, the police officers are stopping every 5th, 12th, or 20th person entering the mall, being sure not to target or be particularly suspicious of Latinos.

Even so, the area’s council has asked police departments to begin collecting information about the race of all persons who are searched, so that officials can demonstrate that no one is being selected on the basis of their race, thereby making the searches completely random.

Law enforcement officers are forbidden from using physical identifying criteria in their operations. Instead, they depend on lady luck, which they hope will prevent attacks by gangsters, which they also hope happen to be the 5th, 12th or 20th person stopped. However, ensuring efficiency and safety of shoppers are not the police department’s top priorities. Instead, they are asked to confirm that absolutely no profiling is being conducted by keeping a paper log of identifying characteristics of all persons stopped. The log must show that whites, blacks and Asians were questioned no less than Latinos. A lawsuit is also pending, accusing law enforcement agencies of violating the Constitution of the United States.

Seems absurd? Ok, I made it up… but –

The NY Times writes about the NYPD’s random bag searches on the NY subway, in response to terrorist attacks on London’s underground system:

“Under the search policy, officers are to use an essentially random criterion – stopping every 5th, 12th or 20th passenger carrying a bad or package. Selecting riders on the basis of race or national origin is prohibited.

Even so, at a news conference, five members of the City Council asked the Police Department yesterday to begin collecting information about the race and ethnicity of riders who are searched so that officials can demonstrate that riders are not being selected because of their background.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has filed a lawsuit, claiming that NYPD’s random bag searches on the subway are “discriminatory and arbitrary.”

OK, so they are arbitrary, but hardly discriminatory.

In any criminal investigation, blatant ignorance of identifying information would be defined as incompetence and a waste of resources. The initial identifying information of a suspect is race. This information reasonably eliminates a large number of possible suspects.

The difference, of course, is searching for suspects when a crime has not yet been committed. The idea of pre-emptive investigation scares those that have seen the likes of Minority Report. It is even scarier when there are virtually no clues to identifying factors, and the only thing that ties the perpetrators together is religion (often not visible).

So what do we do?

First, we must stop pretending that the terrorists so far, by-and-large, have not been of the same ethnic origin. This will reasonably narrow down the search for potential perpetrators. But, it makes ALMOST as little sense to stop every Arab or North African in NYC today as it does to stop every 5th random person. Therefore, the profiling must be even more exact than race to be effective.

Israel has been perfecting the art of profiling, and has successfully prevented El Al (national airline) hijackings since 1970. The profilers are trained to look for signs of suspicious behavior (body language), which provides effective clues of whom to question. Barring exceptional con artists, body language is a dead give away of suspicious behavior. In fact, police officers are trained to look for such clues when dealing with everyday criminals.

The results: plenty of Arabs fly El Al, and yet enough people have been turned away to prevent terrorist attacks since 1970.

So why not fly some Israelis to NYC to train New York’s finest on such tactics?

One more thing…

NYCLU’s suit is filed on behalf of “four people, including a “man described as a ‘political activist, writer and media critic’ who is worried about being harassed if the police notice the political materials he carries.”

Political materials? The police officers are checking for explosives, not books and pamphlets! None of my hippy friends have ever been detained at airports for carrying Michael Moore’s or Noam Chomsky’s latest.

The NYCLU and the ‘activist’ are accusing the NYPD of political persecution, with no evidence to the fact. Pre-emptive? You bet!

John McDonald