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Profiling: A Way to Prevent an Encounter

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By Seth R. Nadel

Profiling – reaching conclusions about a persons behavior based upon their dress, personal hygiene, setting, and actions. Today, it is proclaimed by many to be a bad thing, when it is not. We all do it all the time, and it protects us from harm, saves lives and shields our property.

Let us start with some simple, everyday examples. Someone comes to the door of your home with an uncovered tray of unwrapped baked goods. They are oddly dressed, do not look clean, and ask if you would like to buy some of these baked goods to support a charity you have never heard of. Should you buy some?

I would not, as I have no idea their real motives. They could be looking over my home for a later burglary. Heck, they may have rung my bell just to see if anyone was home – if not they might break in now. Where did they get the baked goods? Were they cooked in sanitary conditions, or on the same stove where they make their meth? The fact that the food is uncovered is a clue!

I chose this example, because some years ago this happened to me. I refused to deal with them, and immediately called 9-1-1 . I later was told this person was the front for a known burglary ring, and the police arrested her and the others that same day.

Just a nice guy?

Did I profile? You darn betch’ya! Did it save me potential problems – yes, for me, my neighbors, and all the other potential victims saved from these predators. Did I do a bad thing? NO!

As a more common example, you are at a gas station, filling your vehicle up, when a person starts walking toward you. They are inappropriately dressed in a long, heavy coat on a warm, sunny day. They are unshaven, dirty, with their shoes untied and their shirt partly out of their pants. They do not appear to have a vehicle, and you have seen them approach other drivers in the station. Should you interact with them?

I say NO! Whatever their problem is, it is not your problem! Let them get close, and it may become your problem, in the worst possible way. I warn them off (“STOP! Leave Me Alone, I can’t help you!”), and carefully watch their reaction. Some stop, some stop but say they just need some money (usually for diapers or milk for their kids) or a ride, some try to sell me some oddball books, flowers, or other weird stuff. So far, no one has kept on coming, entering my personal space and raising the level of risk. Once again, I speed dial 9-1-1 and let the professionals deal with them. More than one arrest has resulted from these kinds of calls. And the folks who truly need help get it, from agencies with the right stuff to help them.

Would I like a drink?

I had the honor to work for a law enforcement agency that has been profiling people since 1789 – U.S. Customs. Many of the founding fathers had smuggled goods past the British, to avoid those excessive taxes. As a result, when they wrote the laws about smuggling, they knew exactly how it was done. Over the generations since then, tactics and methods have changed on both sides. But I have seen amazing feats of profiling that have kept all kinds of prohibited and injurious items out of this country, and resulted in the collection of lawful fees (Customs Duties).

Early in my career, I watched a uniformed Customs Inspector peer into a crowd of over 300 people, who had just arrived in a 747 from Europe. He pointed to one well dressed individual, and he had other officers direct this gentleman to his inspection lane. Before opening his bags, he asked the traveler several times if he had anything else to declare (as imported), and was told no. He then placed his hand on the gent’s arm above the elbow, and said: “Where is the watch?” The traveler got all shaky, and said: “What watch?” The inspector slid his hand down the man’s jacket arm, and stopped about 4” above his wrist. He had found a very expensive Rolex watch concealed under the man’s jacket sleeve – a watch worth about $20,000 dollars today. How did he do that? Years of experience dealing with international travelers let him “profile” that man as a potential smuggler.

Profiling is a valid defensive technique, if (big IF) it is based on facts and actions, not superficial things. In my job I investigated and interviewed folks of all colors, national origins, races, religions and nations. They were all treated as individuals, the way I would like to be treated. Some were arrested, others subject to civil fines. Others were not, as they had made innocent mistakes. As in any other profession, I met nice folks, jerks, butt kissers, straight shooters, and those who felt they were above the law. You could not tell any of that by their skin color, religion, dress, hair style, etc.

A call for me??

Evaluating Dress

In short time contacts, you can take into account such things as dress. Is this person dressed appropriately for the weather? For the venue? (Torn tee shits and camouflage pants are sort of out of place at the Country Club.) While dress has become a LOT more casual, someone showing up in a suit & tie at our remote ranch would raise our suspicions, so this can go either way. For example there was the serial killer, Ted Bundy. He was always well dressed, well spoken, neat in his appearance. That was how he was able to kidnap and kill numerous young women – he did not fit anyone’s “profile” of a serial killer.

The very essence of undercover work was not fitting a profile as a cop. In the 1970’s in Southern California, cops were generally males with short hair and a mustache. So our folks who did a lot of undercover carried “non-cop” guns, had long hair, and beards. They even drove non-standard cars, the same as the smugglers. They had to learn to fit the profile of a dope dealer, not the profile of a cop.

The area of dress that is getting a lot of attention today is those who wear Arab clothing. Most commonly they appear to be women, dressed head to toe in the Muslim Burka. They could be the nicest people around – but with some of their co-religionists terrorizing people, they draw our attention. I say appear to be women, as male terrorists have worn the burka to avoid security screenings and commit acts of terror. And British Special Forces (male) troops have worn burkas to penetrate ISIS security. Anyone wearing a burka in these times is worthy of close observation. The clothing alone does not define their character, but it certainly can be considered among the factors utilized to set your awareness level.

Or “Your keys and wallet!”

Personal hygiene – the uncombed hair, scraggily beard, and rumpled clothing along with body odor can be indicators as well. Why is this person doing nothing to maintain a healthy appearance? It could be they have been living “rough,” camping out in the woods. It could be they are victims of an accident or misfortune. Or it could be a lifestyle choice. In any case, taken in concert with the venue, they could be indicators of danger. Since we live in a rural community in the poorest county in the State, we see lots of folks in this condition. Most are living on or visiting their remote property, where they have no water or electricity. Some have made that lifestyle choice, wearing the same clothing until it falls off them. Others have those mental issues, usually induced by their illegal drug use. The same folks in a big city would soon be talking to the police. I remain wary of them in all locations.

You must also consider actions – in fact actions are THE determining factor. I don’t care how well dressed someone is, if they point a gun at me, I will shoot them! If someone I don’t know approaches me, starts a conversation, and then reaches into their clothing for no apparent reason, I immediately go to condition RED, and focus on what they are holding, while considering my potential response! Oh, they may be answering their cell phone, but what if they are not…?

Like wolves, people are more dangerous in packs. When you see a pack, of either sex, who appear to be targeting you, change the situation, preferably by leaving! Yes, females are becoming more violent, and occupying more jail cells for violent crimes. Plus some are bait sent to distract you while the others close the distance for a sudden attack.

Do I profile? YES, every day. But I base my actions on the demeanor, dress, and actions of folks, not their skin color, accent, or any other trivial area. But I have, and will continue to, shape my defensive plan on the actions of others – I will profile.

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