Sunday, May 02, 2010

Profiling and Clear Thinking

Suppose than in Banktown, 90% of the bank robberies are committed by white men 80 and older with beards. (For the record I fit that description.)  Would it make sense for police to pay close attention to people who fit that profile hanging around banks? But wouldn't that  be race, age, and beard profiling? The question illustrates the confusion surrounding the current discussion. We are supposed to be against all sorts of profiling, right?

Perhaps a relevant distinction (than which nothing is more useful) would be helpful. If profiling means focusing suspicion (stopping, questioning, detaining, etc.) on people merely because they fit a  particular profile and for no  reason relevant to the crime or other offense at issue, that is prejudice, is wrong. and should be prohibited, as in "driving while black."

If, however, the profile is relevant to the crime as suggested in the example given, profiling would be sensible policing and should be commended and promoted. If would be foolish to ignore white men 80 and over with beards when they are in or near a bank in Banktown.

Sometimes a relevant distinction can clear things up beautifully.

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