‘Profiling’ definition worth another look
by Charlie Sewell
January 13, 2013 12:00 AM | 1514 views | 1 1 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Retired Powder Springs Police Chief Charlie Sewell
Retired Powder Springs Police Chief Charlie Sewell
Today the word ‘profiling’ has a negative connotation. Please tell me what is wrong with profiling? Now consider the phrase “racial profiling” and the idea of profiling becomes ugly.

Unlike many current dictionary definitions, I think of profiling as reading, rating and reacting to someone’s behavior and movements to predict their criminal activity. Racial profiling is recording a person’s skin color to predict criminal activity. Racial profiling is Mala In Se, which is Latin for wrong or evil in itself. It is also Mala Prohibitia, which in Latin means it is prohibited by law.

A few short years ago I needed to supplement my law enforcement income so I took a part-time security job at a large retail diamond supplier. Security concerns included a potential violent day-time robbery by a cadre of villains firing AK-47 rifles as they jumped from a van crashing through the front glass doors.

One particular day I noticed a young man enter the store and walk out of my sight. His clothing and grooming were unlike any other customer I had ever noticed in the store. Fearing that he might be casing the diamond store in advance of the imagined van load of desperadoes, I exited the store to prevent being cornered inside. A few minutes passed and I realized that my suspicions were incorrect so I headed back inside. As I reached the front door it swung open with the same young man providing the thrust. I said “thank you” and he said “you’re welcome.”

Minutes later I noticed him leaving the store with a family. They were nicely dressed and obviously Middle American. As they walked by I told the woman that her son was very polite. She replied “thank you, we hear that a lot.” It was that very moment that I realized I had misjudged the young man. I was guilty of profiling his appearance rather than his behavior and I felt lower than the last man up a tree running from a grizzly bear.

I believe that many people are guilty of the same indiscretion. For some, it is a lack of knowledge rather than ethnic bias. Most police officers know their motive is often mistaken so they carefully document as well as make concerted efforts to explain those motives to the citizens they encounter. Professional police managers also write policy to eliminate ethnicity as a factor in deciding whether an officer engages in enforcement.

Law enforcement officers should profile people based on the totality of their unusual conduct, questionable comments, suspicious location, or perhaps the tools they carry. A person wearing all dark clothing, carrying a screw driver and pliers, and walking at two o’clock in the morning in a closed business area prone to burglary would garner the suspicion of most anyone.

Racial profiling is wicked, and for law enforcement it is rightfully prohibited by law. Judging someone by the color of their skin is like playing the lottery because the odds of being correct are pretty small.

Charlie Sewell is the Powder Springs chief of police. His column runs occasionally in the Marietta Daily Journal.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
C.H. McBride
January 18, 2013
Very thoughtful column, Chief!

In our busy society, we often judge people by the short route of appearances, rather than the long route of observing actions.
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