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by Peter Moskos

August 22, 2013

Sorry about the shooting, Brian, but it's not profiling if it's the totality of the circumstances

A few posts ago I linked to nice article by Brian Beutler. He explains very well how he didn't succumb to the "ecological fallacy" (of assuming what is true for the individual is true for the group, or vice versa) even after being held up and shot. I particularly like the line, "Everyone who’s ever shot me was black and wearing a hoodie. There just aren’t any reasonable inferences to draw from that fact."

But I've since heard Beutler on the radio (On Point with Tom Ashbrook, but I can't find the link to the segment). What I heard makes me think Beutler doesn't understand policing. And to say (I'm paraphrasing here) "I've been shot by two blacks guy and still don't think police should have stopped my shooters" is like a left-wing equivalent to the right-wing mindlessness of wrapping yourself in the flag and saying "September 11th!" whenever somebody considers that it may not be right for the US to kill or capture and imprison and/or torture some innocent person.

Beutler said that these two guys, the ones who shot him, were doing nothing that he and his friend weren't doing that night. So police had no reason to stop them. And if they had, it would have been racial profiling. But of course the two criminals were doing something that Beutler and his friend were not doing. The two black guys wearing hoodies were carrying a loaded gun and looking for people to mug. This intention matters because, as any street cop can tell you, it changes your behavior.

Cops are trained and have experience noticing things. I'm not talking about some vague "leave crime to the professionals" bullshit. I'm talking about concrete behavior that would give observant police officers reasonable suspicion to suspect and stop these thugs before Beutler got shot. That really is what we train and pay police to do.

Beutler, I assume, was going from point A to B. The criminals may have walking around the block, or back and forth on one block. The cops might have known of previous armed robberies in the area the past few days and been looking for two young black men who actually did match the description... or were the actually criminals pictures in a previous robbery.

A cop could have noticed the walking that is characteristic of a man carrying a gun in his pants: a sheltering hand, a favoring gait, a possessive pat, or a heavy weight in the pocket. A good police officer would also notice that the two criminals were very alert to their surroundings, their heads jerking in all directions while they walked with a practiced nonchalance that doesn't coincide with said hyper-vigilance. Or maybe the cop just know these two from a previous arrest.

Now none of these reasons alone may give police reason to stop a person (though a few of them would). But my point is a good cop could see many suspicious aspects of criminal behavior that a dumb-ass politically correct liberal would be oblivious to.

At some point the "totality of the circumstances" (Illinois v. Gates) allows a cop to build a case for the reasonable suspicion needed to make a legal stop. Had a good cop been there and done this, he could have preventing the the shooting of Beutler. The only thanks he may have received from Beutler was being called racist: "Why didn't you stop us, the white guys. I was doing the same thing they were."

But no, Brian, you weren't. And this is key: The criminals weren't (hypothetically) stopped because they were black. They were stopped because their behavior was suspicious in a way that would lead a reasonable police officer to suspect that they were about to mug somebody. Just because all you see is race may say more about you than it does about police.


Anonymous said...

As an officer in an extremely liberal, highly politicized, and infamously crime ridden west coast city, I frequently confront this particularly aggravating variety of fact-resistance. The 9-11 flag draping analogy is right on- I typically use the climate change deniers, but the point is the same.
What I've learned over my career, and what has frustrated me as a life-long progressively inclined citizen, is that despite all common sense and evidence to the contrary, well-meaning liberal types are stubbornly attached to this outdated narrative of white officers maliciously and illegally harassing innocent black men "doing nothing". As you just articulated, police work is a thinking person's game. Unfortunately the critics are often so blinded by ideology that to educate themselves on very basic police procedures which may illustrate, like you stated, that for professionals it's not all about race. The real harm from this refusal to engage maturely with the subject matter is the effect this political pressure has on depts, and by extension the most vulnerable communities. I see officers putting blinders on and avoiding perfectly justified stops (not even grey area sophisticated, I'm talking straight PC)for fear of allegations of racism. Its more trouble to deal with the subsequent complaints that now accompanies meaningful proactive police work than to do the bare minimum. And of course, the crime rate sky rockets because the suspects are emboldened by de-policing and ideological cover. So once again, its folks in the poor and predominately black neighborhoods, where the well-meaning liberal types don't have to live, that suffer.

Anonymous said...

"But my point is a good cop could see many suspicious aspects of criminal behavior that a dumb-ass politically correct liberal would be oblivious to."

Absolutely. Nice post, Peter.

I'm not a cop, but I was a CJ major and I've worked in private protection (healthcare security mostly). When one spends enough time observing the criminally inclined (in person or on CCTV footage), taking witness/victim statements and reading incident reports, you begin to develop behavioral profiles for people who are looking to rip people off or do violence.

Most criminal acts, particularly property crimes or robberies, aren't impulsive. Criminals may not be book smart, but they do conduct surveillance and they recognize patterns. They also have a good sense of who would be the easiest victim (they want victim, not a fight!).

I opted out of policing because of my opposition to the drug war and other asinine policies. But I am still interested in having quality policing. So, in my opinion, a good cop (or security officer)has to learn to think like a criminal without becoming one. If you learn to do this, race should only be relevant because it is part of a suspect description.

If the police weren't so busy fighting victimless crime and filling quotas in the US, their agencies would have more time to teach officers these valuable skills. After that, who needs racial profiling!

Dave- IL

PCM said...

Those are both excellent comments.

To the anonymous Oakland po... er, I mean, police officer in what could be any extremely liberal, highly politicized, and infamously crime ridden west coast city (please do not confirm or deny) -- thank you. Very well said.