Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Too good to be true: profiles and justice

Jerry Stratton, March 4, 2005

Okay, single mothers, looking for a date? Try this man’s profile on for size:

  • He is a college graduate, has a good job, and has no criminal record.
  • He is trustworthy and dependable.
  • Enjoys spending time with your family, rather than going out to the bar with his drinking buddies.
  • Your children like him.
  • He enjoys spending quality time with you and your family.
  • He remembers your and your children’s birthdays and other special occasions with gifts and restaurant excursions.
  • Despite all that, he doesn’t insinuate himself too quickly into your family life. He lets your children grow to trust him, rather than trying to buy their trust. He doesn’t rush them.
  • He doesn’t run away when you need attention, and understands that a single-parent living situation is sometimes dysfunctional. If your children have special needs, he’s understanding about that, too, and even works with them if you want him to.
  • When you go over to his place and have to bring the kids, he makes sure his apartment or house is child-safe and child-friendly.

Do you like this guy? Or just think he’s a doormat? Turns out, according to Jim Kouri at Michigan News.com, he’s not just a potentially good boyfriend, husband, and father, he’s a classic pedophile or pederast.

Obviously, I’ve reworded the profile to make it less accusatory. But the actions are the same. It’s all about which lens you view the person through. In the profile’s favor, I left out the parts that have the profilee actually committing the crime in question. But that’s because those are the parts that are usually in contention. If the prosecution has proof of those, no one needs to bring out the profile.

This is how profiles seem to be designed: make the profile cast as wide a net as possible. A really good profile will even anticipate what most people would do once suspicion falls on them. For example, this profile says that if they’re truly guilty they will “deny they abuse children even after arrested”.

Yes, I’m sure that fits the profile of most who are guilty. But I’m even more sure that it fits the profile of the innocently accused.

This is the real point of profiles. They can be used to justify any arrest, any stop, and any suspicion. And even if the arrest was wrong, the profile can be used to make innocently-accused victims’ attempts to show their innocence, itself look like guilt. Because when the accused proclaims their innocence, well, that fits the profile, too. They must be guilty.

It’s a widespread problem with the general use of profiles. Profiles do little more than justify “feelings” and “hunches”. Back in 1991, the Pittsburgh Press did a survey of reasons for DEA agents taking people’s money when they come off of airplanes. It was classic profiling:

Agents in Illinois are told its suspicious if their subjects are among the first people off a plane, because it shows they’re in a hurry.

In Michigan, the DEA says that being the last off a plane is suspicious because the subject is trying to appear unconcerned.

And in Ohio, agents are told suspicion should surface when suspects deplane in the middle of a group because they may be trying to lose themselves in the crowd.

Profiles are not useful for determining guilt. Mostly, they appear to be used for justifying stops of suspects of color, suspects who are suspects mainly because they are not white. Profiles are deliberately vague because they are not the real reason for contacting the suspect. Thus, they have to allow for a wide variety of extraneous circumstances.

After the arrest, they’re for justifying that anyone who comes under the attention of law enforcement is guilty, guilty or not.

I have no idea whether Michael Jackson is guilty or not of the crimes he’s accused of. If it turns out that he is, it has nothing to do with this profile. A profile such as this one can only be “useful” after the fact. If the police were to arrest everyone who got off a plane first, certainly every once in a while they’d find a drug dealer. But most of the time they wouldn’t. Because that isn’t why the profile is created.

These profiles are created to justify a stop or arrest after the fact. That’s why there’s a profile for each of getting off first, getting off last, and getting off in the middle. Once a stop has been made, the profile that fits is used to justify it. The same is true of Kouri’s pedophiliac profile. Like most such profiles, it isn’t predictive and it wasn’t designed to be predictive.

  1. <- Hunter Thompson
  2. Media Balance ->