02/17/2000

Profiling in Law Enforcement

By Clayton SearleThis nation has recently been in an emotional discussion concerning the use of profiles by law enforcement officers. Unfortunately, this debate has been entitled, "racial profiling." There is a saying in debating, "If you can define the terms, you win the contest." Utilizing the term, "racial profiling," ensures that the debate will be negative in tone and divisive in nature. I propose that instead of inflaming emotions, we take a look at what actually is being done in this area of drug enforcement. This issue is so important to law enforcement and its efforts to interdict drugs that a dispassionate examination is essential.No government agency or law enforcement association, in their interdiction training, teaches that race is a characteristic of drug couriers. Not the Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Customs, The International Association of Chiefs of Police or any national police association, period. Officers are taught to look at the individual for characteristics or indicators of drug courier activity. These characteristics, when seen in clusters by trained officers, have been recognized as a valid investigative tool by the U.S. Supreme Court.Those who purport to be shocked that ethnic groups are over represented in the population arrested for drug courier activities must have been in a coma for the last twenty years. The fact is that ethnic groups control the majority of the drug trade in the United States. They also tend to hire as their underlings and couriers others of their same group. Why? Because these are the people they grew up with, feel comfortable around and because it's human nature. The truth is, if you work drug interdiction in this country, you will not arrest the same percentages of ethnic groups as represented in the U.S. general population. People may not like it but that is the reality.The airport drug detail in Los Angeles compiled a breakdown of the percent of ethnic groups they arrested. The first list was based on the officers' observations of drug courier characteristics. They then compared that percentage to those arrested utilizing characteristics gleaned from airline computer information. The airline computers, as you can imagine, have no category for an individual's ethnic makeup. The percentages from both sources were almost identical. What does this mean? It means they were arresting drug couriers by utilizing identifiable characteristics, not race. The idea that officers refuse to arrest any drug couriers unless they are members of a minority group is both insulting and ludicrous.The recently retired Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.), Thomas Constantine, started a program to assist local police in the arrest of violent drug offenders. The mobile enforcement teams (MET) are in all the major cities. The Los Angeles MET team has had a number of successful deployments in the greater Los Angeles area. They were so successful in the Rampart area that the citizens commissioned a billboard on Wilshire Boulevard thanking them for their work. In these deployments, 85% of the suspects arrested were minorities. Are these MET teams and their local counterpart racist? If you work in a city where 99% of the crack is controlled by minorities, then inevitably the vast majority of couriers arrested will be minorities. It's called reality and it will still be true no matter how hard the apologists try to pretend it isn't. The hard truth in America today is that the minorities of any major city commit most of the street drug sales and get arrested disproportionately.Are there a few officers foolishly taking race into account in their profiling? Yes. Are some people doing foolish things where you work? Of course. Are these officers racist? No. They usually are without formal training and struggling to do their job. Most untrained people tend to do their jobs poorly, stupidly and unevenly. No amount of cultural diversity and sensitivity training will help unless a person is adequately trained to do their job. When they are exposed to a training program, they become aware that race is not a drug courier characteristic. If they perform as trained, end of problem. If they don't, they should be fired or, if civil service rules intervene, assigned to counting flash light batteries in the basement of the police station. Is the Department of Justice expanding their training in response to these allegations? No. They have cut D.E.A.'s training budget for interdiction training.The Federal Government and some states reacted to these racial profiling allegations by requiring officers to record the race of citizens they contact. What will the reaction be when these numbers indicate that ethnic groups are interviewed and arrested in greater frequency than their percentage in the U.S. general population? A variety of groups will demand that drug interdiction efforts be curtailed and abolished.What is the actual agenda of these outraged critics of drug interdiction? Many of these groups are made up of the same people who advocate drug legalization. What better way to de-facto legalize narcotics than to cripple our nations interdiction efforts. Drug interdiction is our first line of defense against drugs entering our communities. Those officers working our borders, airports, bus terminals and highways are our best chance of having an impact on this problem facing our nation. The vast majority of drugs confiscated in the United States are through our interdiction efforts. Do we really want to surrender to the drug organizations the means of distributing their products? One can only hope that this country will not jeopardize the health and future of our children because of the agenda of a few self-serving groups.Clay Searle is the President of the International Narcotics Interdiction Association (INIA)www.inia.org

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