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The Anatomy of Justice – Profiling: The myth, the science and the behavior – Part 2 of 4

In the United States, until recent decades, profiling relied mostly on personal intuition and informal studies. However, in the late 60s and 70s, psychologist Harvey Schlossberg developed profiles of many criminals, including David Berkowitz – New York City’s “Son of Sam,” which describes the approach used.

It was based on the question “What I would do?” It was described as a sit down and look through cases where the criminals had been arrested. In that search, they looked at age, male or female, level of education, family environment, issues in school, etc. So, they listed as many factors as they could come up with, and then added them up to see which were the most common.” Today it’s the job of Forensic Psychologists and this type of criminal science is not one of profiling any particular person simply because of race and/or culture.

Despite the different names, all of these tactics share a common goal: to help investigators examine evidence from crime scenes and victim and witness reports to develop an offender description. Investigators might use profiling to narrow down a field of suspects or figure out how to interrogate a suspect already in custody. However, the act of profiling becomes a negative practice when specific targeting of individuals based strictly on race without any cause other than race and/or culture.

This negative type of profiling refers to the documented law enforcement practice of the detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of an individual on the basis of the racial or ethnic status. In this regard, a closer look is needed. So, permit me to go below the surface and dive into this definition a little deeper so that it can be understood clearly.

“Racial profiling,” in the case of policing, refers to the targeting of particular individuals by law enforcement authorities based not on their behavior, but rather their personal characteristics.

It is generally used to encompass more than simply an individual’s race. As used in this writing, it encompasses race, ethnicity, and at times, national origin, and/or religion – and means the impermissible use by law enforcement authorities of these personal characteristics, to any degree, in determining which individuals to stop, detain, question, or subject to other law enforcement activities.

Two points should be emphasized in connection with this definition.

As the qualifying term “impermissible use” indicates, the definition does not prohibit reliance by law enforcement authorities on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in all circumstances. Rather, it is aimed at law enforcement activities that are premised on the erroneous assumption that individuals of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion are more likely to engage in certain types of unlawful conduct than are individuals of another race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.

Therefore, it is not racial profiling when law enforcement authorities rely on these personal characteristics as part of a subject description or in connection with an investigation if there is reliable information that links a person of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion to a specific incident, scheme, or organization. However, that said, there must be other clearly identifying information other than just the race, culture, etc.

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It also should be understood that under this definition, race need not be the sole factor used by law enforcement authorities in deciding who to subject to investigative procedures. Even if individuals are not targeted by law enforcement authorities solely because of their race, race is often a factor and, in fact, the decisive factor in guiding law enforcement decisions about who to stop, detain, question, or subject to other investigative procedures. Selective law enforcement based in part on race is no less pernicious or offensive to the principle of equal justice than is enforcement based solely on race.

The above said, what I look at is the act of profiling which begs the question when did this act occur? In my estimation, it isn’t when a particular person is stopped. It is when did the officer make the decision to act. That decisive act being, to follow, stop, search, etc.

If that officer is sitting in a parking lot along with other vehicles, what thought drew him to a particular vehicle and then, make the decision to follow that vehicle out of that lot, and then make the decision to follow that vehicle further down the street, and make a further decision to perform the vehicle stop. So the question is asked, is that profiling?

If no infraction of law was noticed from the parking lot, why was the decision made to follow the vehicle out of the lot? If a violation was noticed initially in the lot, why was the stop not made prior to leaving the lot? And, why was the vehicle followed?

If a violation was noticed after leaving the lot, when was it noticed and why wasn’t the stop made at that point? If no violation, why was the vehicle followed further onto another street and then only making the stop at the very end in a dark area of the vicinity? By all appearances, this scenario fits the pattern of profiling.

This kind of profiling happens nearly 8 to 1 when the person profiled is a person of color, especially if that person is Black versus White. Some of the reasoning I have heard is plainly missing in logic. As an example, after following a vehicle for nearly a two mile distance, the vehicle was stopped. The officer made the stop was because of dark window tinting as he was unable to see inside the vehicle.

When accused of profiling he responded by saying he initially followed the vehicle because the driver looked suspicious. Think that one over….if the window tint was so dark, how did he see whatever it was that made the driver look suspicious?

Maybe the issue is the young teenager stopped, questioned and searched while walking home. The reason for the stop … he kept looking back over his shoulder as if he had done something. Think that one over.

…To Be Continued Next Week

Andrew Jackson is a resident of Virginia Beach and active in the Seajack Civic League of that city.

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