As I prepare to fly out of MSP again today, I dread the new full body scan, which I’ve been through twice. I think I’ve determined that it’s the raising your hands above your head and being watched by scores — maybe hundreds — of people that is what makes it humiliating. In any case, I don’t like it, though I haven’t yet opted for the pat-down.
In the midst of the hubbub surrounding these scanners and a new terrorist threat foiled in Oregon, I’ve been hearing lots about the pros and cons of profiling. I have some experience with profiling. I was a volunteer police chaplain for a suburban police department, and I had several conversations with cops about profiling as I rode along on their shifts.
What they told me, though they’d be reluctant to admit publicly, is this: Of course we profile. Profiling, they’d say, is the only way to police with any kind of efficiency. Being a cop is all about making judgments. One of the most mundane is this: Who’s license plate should I run through the computer in my squad car as I sit at this traffic light? (Yes, when a cop pulls up behind you at a light, s/he is most likely running your license through the state database.)
One cop put it to me this way: I’m trying to catch people with warrants, people who should not be driving; the bigger the warrant the bigger the bust. When I see a rusted out beater full of Mexicans, it’s more likely that there’s a warrant for someone in that car than the doctor who’s driving a Lexus.
My point is this: Cops have to make snap judgments all the time, and they do that based on their experience. If they have more experience with a certain type of person involved in a certain type of crime then, of course, they’re more likely to pull that type of person over for an interrogation.
And I imagine that TSA agents are in the same position. 32 million passengers pass through MSP Airport each year, and that’s simply too many people for a couple hundred TSA agents to fully inspect.
I’m not saying it’s good or it’s bad. I’m saying it is. They are profiling you as you stand in the security line, whether you like it or not.