The Truth about Profiling

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.)

[Read more…]