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Jewish World Review April 23, 2001 / 30 Nissan, 5761

Jill "J.R." Labbe

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Consumer Reports

My name is "J.R." and I'm a 'profiling victim' -- MOST people stopped by police, regardless of their race, think the activity was unwarranted. I remember the time in my distant youth when I was pulled over for . . . what? Wasn't speeding, had my seat belt on, my tags were current. Ahh, I was female with long blond hair wearing a fox coat driving a silver sports car.

Was I a victim of profiling? Who knows? At the time, I thought the guy was prospecting for dates. Since I've been married to a cop (for the record, not `that' cop), I've met one or two whom I wouldn't put it past.

But to label all male cops as hound dogs is as much an unfair stereotype as the one being hurled at law enforcement today -- that officers are racist for using "racial profiling" to make stops.

Profiling is a tool, a recognition of patterns and consistencies in behavior. That it sometimes trains suspicion on noncriminal young black males may be unfair, but it is not de facto racism.

A white guy driving slowly through an economically depressed, all-black neighborhood at 2 a.m. isn't looking for an open 7-Eleven to buy milk. The police stop him. Could be he's lost, in which case the police point him in the right direction. But could be he's looking to score, in which case they escort him to jail.

A young woman loitering along the street after dark dressed in a skirt no bigger than a wide belt and a blouse those shows cleavage from here to Harlingen begs the police to check out her story. Years of experience have taught them what kinds of people are generally engaged in prostitution.

Police have a mandate to battle crime. They use the tools they know work, and profiling is one of them. The Constitution does not prohibit police from considering race as long as they do so for bona fide law enforcement purposes and as long as it is only one of several factors.

In a federal lawsuit of the early 1990s, United States vs. Weaver, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of an officer's action when he used profiling to apprehend a suspect.

"Large groups of our citizens," the court said, "should not be regarded by law enforcement officers as presumptively criminal based upon their race." The court, however, went on to say that "facts are not to be ignored simply because they may be unpleasant."

The court said that race, when considered in conjunction with other signals, is a legitimate factor in the decision to approach and ultimately detain a suspect. Yet police departments across the nation are researching their traffic stops, noting the race of the people with whom officers come in contact.

The Arlington, Texas Police Department has begun its own two-year study. Chief Theron Bowman ordered this as a local response to former President Clinton's directive for federal law enforcement agencies to check for the practice of "racial profiling."

The problem with such studies is that they suggest there should be a correlation between a community's demographics and the people pulled over by the police -- that the percentage of, say, African-Americans stopped should track the percentage of African-Americans living in the town. And if they don't parallel, then the police are guilty of racial discrimination.


Any number of factors can skew the figures, and they have zip to do with discrimination. The number of women stopped by police will never track the demographic occurrence of women in a city's population. Neither will the number of people over the age of 65. Make that 35.

The criminal census does not track the general census.

"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," says Clayton Searle, president of the International Narcotics Interdiction Association.

Why bring up drug interdiction? Because more than anything, this nation's war on drugs is the No. 1 culprit behind the accusations of "racial profiling."

"It's an unpleasant fact that blacks are disproportionately involved in the drug trade," said Morgan Reynolds, director of the Criminal Justice Center for the National Center for Policy Analysis. "Cops aren't out to get blacks so much as to get drug dealers, creating collateral damage for black motorists."

Is there a minuscule number of rogue cops who abuse their authority by harassing people, some of it based on race? Yes. But to allow political correctness to disarm police of an important law enforcement tool on the grounds of unfounded claims of racism is criminal.

JWR contributor Jill "J.R." Labbe is senior editorial writer and columnist for the Star-Telegram . Comment by clicking here.

04/06/01: Female inmate illustrates folly of drug policy


© 2001, Jill "J.R." Labbe