Pubdate: Sun, 20 Jan 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Jane Eisner
Note: Jane Eisner's column appears on Sundays.
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


Perhaps it should come as no surprise that racial profiling grew out of 
America's ill-formed, inconclusive war on drugs, or that ethnic profiling 
should now become an issue in the nation's continuing war on terrorism.

In war, the enemy must be defined, targeted and, if at all possible, 
conceived as the other. The intuitive desire for safety and the fundamental 
need for self-defense trump all else. There's no time for nuance. If you 
resemble the enemy, you could be the enemy; therefore, you are the enemy.

Such logic governed the police work of Troopers John Hogan and James Kenna, 
who pleaded guilty last week in the shootings of four unarmed minority men 
on the New Jersey Turnpike. We were taught to do this, the troopers said -- 
to target minorities, to make them the enemy in a sweeping attempt to halt 
the flow of drugs and weapons along a major thoroughfare.

This is the logic that gives profiling a very bad name.

Profiling is an essential element of law enforcement, as necessary to 
preventing crimes and solving them as a badge and a gun. It is the head and 
the heart of intelligent policing.

The issue is not whether to profile but how. Let's leave the war talk aside 
for a moment; it muddies the discussion. There is an important distinction 
to be made between the kind of reckless racial profiling committed by 
Hogan, Kenna and countless colleagues in New Jersey and the more 
sophisticated profiling that should now be at work in the war against 

"I cringe when I hear people talk about conflating the two activities," 
says Jack Riley, director of the Rand Corp.'s criminal justice program and 
expert on counterterrorism.

"There is a real distinction between the national security threat posed by 
the guy who goes on a plane with a bomb in his shoe," says Riley, "and the 
threat to communities posed by drug traffickers."

Racial profiling, happily, finally, is recognized by the majority of white 
Americans as both real and unacceptable. (Minorities have known it as a 
reality for a long time.) Presidents now condemn it. Governors and mayors 
seek to banish it. State troopers such as Hogan and Kenna are sent packing.

These are welcome developments not just because of the feelings bruised and 
civil rights violated by those who decided it was a crime to "drive while 
black." They are welcome because racial profiling is simply not a very good 
way of nabbing the bad guys and gals.

Clumsy and ineffective, it casts either too wide a net and ensnares the 
innocent, or so narrow a net it misses its mark.

Deborah Ramirez and her colleagues at Northeastern University's Institute 
on Race and Justice have studied racial profiling for years. They believe 
that a better way to target and nab criminals is to look not at appearance 
but at behavior. They have the data to prove it works.

A study of the "hit" rates for the U.S. Customs Service illustrates the 
difference. In 1998, customs officials used race and other characteristics 
to choose whom to search at border crossings, and they most often came up 
empty-handed. In well over 11,000 searches of whites, only 5.8 percent were 
either arrested or found to have contraband. In more than 6,000 searches of 
blacks, only 5.9 percent were "hits." For Latinos, the percentage was a 
mere 1.4.

By 2000, the Customs Service decided to abandon racial profiling and 
concentrate instead on behavior and random searches. The "hit" rate soared. 
Particularly notable was the change for Latinos: One-fifth the searches 
produced nearly double the number of hits.

Why? Because where profiling based merely on race is a blunt instrument, 
behavioral profiling is as careful and probing as a surgeon's hand. 
Every-thing is questioned, including itinerary, travel plans, home address, 
how tickets were purchased and when.

At the same time, random searches turn up the person who is "none of the 
above" but guilty, nonetheless.

There's another, pragmatic reason to be wary of racial profiling. As 
Ramirez says, "It alienates the very community we need right now to embrace."

In fact, studies in England show that how searches are conducted plays a 
big role in determining whether any racial animosity results. It also 
influences the willingness of the affected racial community to help law 
enforcement find the real culprits.

After Arizona was forced to take a hard look at its policing techniques, 
the state found that concerns about racial profiling disappeared when 
officers treated suspects with respect, courtesy and alacrity.

Good manners make good policing.

Racial profiling is for the lazy and unimaginative. Surely, American law 
enforcement can use more smarts and sophistication to target criminals and 
potential terrorists. Judge not by how people look but by how they act. Not 
a bad dictum for us all.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager