This whole Arizona thing has kicked off many discussions about profiling of the racial kind. They remind me a lot of the arguments floated for and against profiling after 9/11, when some advocated using it to identify potential terrorists.
I'm not going to discuss either, you may be relieved to hear, because after my serial killer seminar I've been thinking about profiling of the behavioral kind.
And interestingly, that kind of profiling seems to reverse the process when compared to the Arizona/terrorist type. Here's what I mean:
When you have a crime scene that an FBI profiler looks at, he takes clues from something that has happened (a murder) and makes a general statement about the kind of person who might be responsible. For example, the neatness of the scene and the lack of physical evidence left behind might indicate an unsub who is intelligent and organized. Or excessive violence might suggest the killer was someone who knew the victim, had a personal grudge. In other words, he doesn't start with a bad guy and try and attach a crime to him, he starts with the crime and tries to guide an investigation towards the bad guy.
The other kind seems to start by pointing at an individual and moving on to a supposed or possible crime. I've just started thinking about this, so maybe there are other distinctions but I mention it only because the two very different law enforcement tools seem to share the same name: "Profiling."
Now, to be clear, my opinion is that even for the FBI-serial killer profiling, is should only be done
by those who have made a real study of it And perhaps when they know a crime has been committed) because it's open to abuse. I wrote a paper in law school on profiling and found some pretty funny applications. For instance, when looking for drug smugglers LE (law enforcement) would identify those who were last to leave the plane, using the theory that the people were nervous about getting off and wanted to wait until the customs officers were tired/bored and wouldn't look too hard.
Then there were cases where LE identified smugglers because they were first off the plane. Obviously, those guys were trying to dash through customs with their merchandise -- time is money, you know. Also, the theory was that smugglers knew LE looked at the last passengers and so coming off first was less suspicious (you know suspicious: lurking and being the last off the plane).
And guess who else LE targeted? Yes, you got it! The smugglers in the middle of the pack. Those dodgy geezers were obviously trying to hide themselves and not raise suspicion.
Think about that next time you get off an airplane.