While working the midnight tour, you are dispatch ed to Main Street on a report of a burglary and attempted rape in progress. It is later discovered that a young lady woke to a man who had broken into her apartment and attempted to sexually assault her. After a brief fight, she was able to dial 911 as the suspect fled the scene. The description provided was of a young Hispanic male and he was seen driving away in an unknown vehicle. As you are turning the corner onto Main Street, you observe two vehicles: a rusty older model GMC pickup truck and a newer model Honda Accord. There is a possibility that one of these vehicles is occupied by the suspect. You have a 50 percent chance to stop the right vehicle. Which vehicle would you stop?
The uninformed public would say that if you stop the pickup truck, you are guilty of stereotyping and even worse you are a racist. On the other hand, if you stop the newer Honda, then you are an idiot and do not know how to do your job and should be provided with more training.
So, is criminal profiling legal? Yes, it is but racial profiling is not. Is it 100% accurate? Of course not, but nothing really is. The problem is that many people are not willing to accept any margin of error; and that is not realistic in our line of duty no matter how much work and effort we put in.
When officers profile a criminal, they take into account several things, such as time of day, clothing, mannerisms, reaction to police presence and many others factors. For instance, heroin addicts have a distinctive pale skin and pinpoint pupils. Their physical features are not normal and induced by their drug abuse.
Burglars have certain habits when scouting a job. They carry tools unconventional to the time and place they are at the moment. They can’t help themselves but to look “guilty” upon the presence of law enforcement. I can spot them a mile away, based on my training and experience.
So, what’s profiling? Profiling is merely a descriptor, an aid in the process of elimination that is legal and completely necessary to accomplish certain investigative tasks.
Unlike racial profiling; criminal profiling is allowed as long as it does not include race as the main and only factor in the profile. During profiling, we can find a connection between race and misconduct. Criminal behavior comes in patterns that give away unique signs indicating that criminals are up to no good, no matter what their race may be. Criminals are identified by their crimes. Profiling is used to detect threats and to stop crimes; therefore, police can’t do anything about what a person might do, only what they actually do. This means that the crime must be actually be committed before there is police involvement.
The line between discretion and profiling is very thin, as well as what’s popular and what seems to make sense. Police officers have a strenuous job, especially when it is time to make the right decision in a split second. They don’t wake up in the morning thinking they will profile a particular race and make them suspects of certain crimes. As enforcers of the law, they are expected to resolve every case they come in contact with, without receiving any credit, and they’re blamed when things do not go well. It is unfortunate that some people do not see us as people who leave their families behind every day to save somebody else’s family, but as degenerate profilers.
God forbid you see the word “Profiling” on the front page of a newspaper; you will not only find a correlation between evil and law enforcement, but the word itself being demonized by the press. The media does not give it the proper credit, which is that it is a great investigative tool when used properly. The FBI has successfully used profiling for decades to catch criminals. However, if this tool is used by police to catch certain ethnic groups, then it is wrong; but if used to solve crimes and catch criminals, then profiling is highly welcome by everybody in the community, even by those who criticize its existence. So, it’s not the profiling process itself, but what you do with it that is objectionable.
So, before you start knocking criminal profiling, remember that it is completely legal and necessary. Without it, many crimes would go unnoticed.
Christian Argudo is a police sergeant in northern New Jersey. He’s a U.S. Army combat veteran. He served two tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He’s earned a bachelor’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University and is currently working toward his master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University as well.