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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Racial Profiling – Striking At the Root, Rather Than Hacking at the Leaves

Many of the challenges in racial profiling discussions arise from the fact that it is inherently difficult to identify true racial profiling. The methodology for gathering statistical data from enforcement activity is, by its nature, very limiting. While one can easily quantify the number of minorities stopped, it is near impossible to capture what was on the officer's mind when he/she stopped them. Research data reveals that the areas of our communities that are the most crime-plagued are also heavily populated by minorities. Numerous socio-economic factors contribute to this, but it is representative of nearly every city across the country. Policing activities are often concentrated in the areas with the most crime, therefore, the highest number of enforcement stops occur in those areas.

Other issues cloud the matter as well. Consider that distinct cultural attitudes are impossible to account for on a spreadsheet. This concept may seem ambiguous without a lengthy explanation, but it does contribute to the problem. For example, I (Chip) grew up in rural America. My friends and I thought it was cool to drive Dukes-of-Hazzard-style down country roads. This attitude, while simply part of our culture, increased our chances of drawing the attention of the county sheriff. Another example is blasting loud music from the car, which is illegal in almost all municipalities, but is an activity often associated with the urban culture.

In addition to the cultural attitudes of those stopped by police, some officers are rude and abrasive to EVERYONE they stop. If the target of their rancor on a particular stop happens to be a minority member, it could easily, although erroneously, be concluded that the stop and unprofessional conduct were predicated on a racial bias.

Jack and I believe the problem is much deeper. Policies, statistical record keeping, procedural reviews and annual training serve only to prune the leaves and branches of bias-based policing. However, a personal anima, an inner way of being, that is fueled by unconditional respect for all, strikes at the root of the problem.

I have a unique advantage in being able to field-test our philosophy on a daily-basis. Approximately 90% of the people my tactical squad encounters are minorities and our first contact with them during an enforcement action is generally at gunpoint. Tense, to say the least, as emotions run very high in these situations. Interestingly, my squad has not had a single complaint from a community member in almost three years, and we have never had a complaint of biased-based enforcement for the six years that I have led the unit. The credit is to be given to our unwavering commitment to the regard for the personhood of each individual we encounter. This is an acquired ability; a critical daily choice; a deliberate way of being. We wrote Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect in order to introduce this philosophy and indentify the unique opportunities that permit others to discover the interpersonal and tactical benefits of seeing people as people.

Recently, Jack’s daughter was on a pier in San Diego County, California. She noticed a thin, rainbow colored sheen of oil residue on the surface of the water. The sheen was only about twenty feet in diameter, was disgusting in appearance and was obviously bad for the ecosystem. The amount of oil was probably just a few tablespoons. It is remarkable to consider that in the countless billions of gallons of water in the ocean, this miniscule amount of oil floated to the surface and was enough to become an ugly pock mark on an otherwise picturesque scene.

While the goal of eliminating personal bias is unattainable (our humanity has personal biases woven into its fabric), we must cease leveraging our natural biases as an excuse to widen the divide between the public and the police. Rather, we should strive to create a law enforcement culture where unconditional respect for all people is the operational norm. In such a culture, the negative, bias-based policing will be readily identified. Even a few drops will float to the surface of an unconditionally respectful organization and produce a sheen that instantly exposes it for the toxic scum that it is.

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