A recent Gallup poll showed that many American’s support ethnic profiling in our airports. I do not. Here’s why. It doesn’t work.

The question is often asked, should we profile? Well, not profiling is like saying “don’t breathe.” We all profile whether we want to or not. It’s in our DNA.

Ever since we were chasing Wildebeests across the Serengeti with a club a few thousand years ago we came with this built in survival instinct. When we walk into a room or down a street, we stay aware of our surroundings or else we may become a victim of crime, getting run over by a car or some other hazard. We feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings so you may not experience this on a daily basis, but if you ever want to test this theory, go to an unfamiliar part of town. You will immediately find yourself assessing your surroundings and the people within them. You will look at someone else and immediately try to decide whether they are a threat. How will you know, you’ll pay attention to body cues that your body has paid attention to since birth.

Does everyone possess this ability? Pretty much, but some people are better at it than others. If you were not good at it in the days before civilized society, you were called “food.” Nowadays, civilized society tries to protect those who aren’t as good as recognizing threat cues as others.

For some reading to back up my statements, check out “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” by Malcolm Gladwell, and “What Every Body is Saying,” by Joe Navarro a former FBI Special Agent. Paul Eckman has published several good books on this as well.

But racial or ethnic profiling? I don’t agree with it.

Here are a couple of excellent articles written by respected colleagues of mine on why racial or ethnic profiling does not work and should not be used.

Behavior Pattern Recognition and Why Racial Profiling Doesn’t Work, and interview with Rafi Ron, former Israeli security chief

Why we must profile airline passengers, by Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International magazine.

Do I think we should profile? Absolutely. It should be done by highly trained individuals as part of an overall security process. Profiling should begin with the way you purchase your ticket (yet Secure Flight took nearly eight years to replace the antiquated Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System) and follow on to your arrival at the airport, through check-in, the screening checkpoint and right onto the flight.

Behavior training should not stop at TSA Behavior Detection Officers. All airport employees, from the ticket agent to the janitor to the police to the fry guy at McDonalds should be given training in suspicious awareness and behavioral detection. Security agents, airport security and police officers should receive the highest levels of training.

There should be a visible presence of security personnel at every checkpoint, observing and conducting interviews. That’s good deterrence and good security.

Now, there should also be some common sense. It doesn’t take a highly trained behavior detection agent to look at someone like NBC News anchor Brian Williams or former Secretary of State Colin Powell to see that some folks just aren’t threats. Let’s not waste time on them. Grandma, in general, you get a pass too (but, with a nod to Jack Graham who blew up his mother and 43 others in 1955 here in Denver on a United flight, we’ll check your luggage just to be sure some relative didn’t give you an unwanted surprise for your birthday).

Well trained behavior detection agents or specialists should be able to look at a crowd of people and immediately pick out the threats. Customs agents and beat cops have been doing this for years. Obviously, not without controversy but instincts aren’t always perfect. The worse thing that happens in the airport if we think you’re a threat and you’re not, is some additional screening and you’re on your way.

TSA was rolling out their Behavior Detection Officer program and that needs to be refined and continued. Each airport must also train their personnel in behavior detection like Miami, Boston and others have done. While I like the technology, I would rather board a flight that has not been screened technologically, but has been screened by highly trained behavior detection specialists.


3 Responses to Profiling

  1. First of all, that was freaking hilarious……. I agree with you on the profiling. I believe that it belongs in the hands of the highly skilled officers on what to look for. If we had no training in profiling, then technically all the terrorist would have to do is send in the decoy Al Quaeda guy with the turban, long beard, thong sandals, carrying a pool cue carryon bag with him, while the really light skinned terrorist in a 3 piece suit snuck on by with their briefcases filled with all kinds of goods. I am guilty of it, but in no way am I the first to say that I agree with it. It was how I was raised, and I think that this is something that belongs to the professionals, and at that level I strongly agree and feel very comfortable with them setting the bar for profiling.

  2. I would agree that profiling should be an essential part of aviation security because technology is not full proof. With every new development in passenger screening technology, terrorists are finding ways to get around these systems. For example, terrorists have been able to develop plastic explosives and create explosives from liquids/gels which make metal detectors an inadequate form of screening. Essentially, a terrorist can find many ways to smuggle explosives or a weapon onto a plane but they cannot hide their physical appearance, such as body language. Having all airport employees properly trained in behavior detection would be highly effective because a terrorist will come in contact with various airport staff besides security.
    -Nicole D.

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