Saturday, March 18, 2006
We receive hours of 'diversity' training to ensure that we don't use prejudice when doing our job, but like it or not, it still comes into play and we couldn't do the job properly without it.
The scenario: You are working on an anti-robbery operation in an area that's being hammered for violent street robberies. The main offender profile is either white or black males, on their own, wearing dark tracksuit tops and bottoms; hoodies which are up and often carry draw-string bags.
You see four men near a bus stop which had two street robberies over the weekend. There's a Section 60 in place in the area (blanket power of search in anticipation of violence for weapons and dangerous items) and you're under pressure to get results. Who do you turn over (search)?
1. The young Chinese man in casuals waiting for the Number 122
2. The young black male in dark tracksuit tops and bottoms, hoodied up and loitering by the bus stop eyeing people up as they go past.
3. The young mixed-race male in a group of six, all wearing school uniforms, loitering around the bus stop. You can see a couple have HMV carrier bags.
4. The young white male, in dark tracksuit, hoodied up and looking very furtive.
Can you guess who it is yet?
Most officers would search either either the young black male, the young white male or both, and it should be both. The fact that the males are black and white respectively, thus matching the main offender profile, is largely irrelevant. Race doesn't come into it.
The important part here is clothing - that they're wearing tracksuits and hoodies, which are up. Simply put, people wearing this combination are far more likely to have police attention and suspicion drawn to them. Yes, it's prejudiced, yes, it's stereotyping, but it matches the offender profile, and experience shows that people wearing these types of clothes in these areas are responsible for more crime than those wearing business suits, casuals or school uniforms.
These two males may have done nothing at all, or they may be prolific street robbers, having just committed or are just about to commit a robbery, or may even be wanted for a previous one. They are in an area of high crime, matching the offender profile, on their own and are looking and acting suspiciously. People wearing hoodies which are up do so either because it's cold/wet, or they're trying to hide their identity from CCTV. People wear dark tracksuits because it 'anonymises' them, insofar as the description circulated is 'male, around 5"10 in height, wearing dark tracksuit clothing and a hood' which, in certain areas, will make them impossible to discern from others wearing exactly the same.
Of the hundreds of people I have stopped wearing this selection of apparel, I can honestly count on two hands the amount of people who have NEVER been in trouble with the police before. It therefore goes to show that our action based on prejudice is founded on good logic and reasoning, even if it does discriminate against people based on what they wear. If I were to truly embrace diversity, I would either search everyone at that bus stop, on the grounds that clothing doesn't matter and any one of them may be responsible for street robberies, or none of them, on the grounds that they've not doing anything wrong right now and I can't assume that males dressed in a particular way are automatically more likely to be responsible for criminal activity than others.
Personally, I'll take the risk of a discrimination complaint by either male and search them - they'd complain far more loudly if I, like some officers, are too scared of offending diversity to do the job properly, and they ended up getting robbed themselves.
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In my own work I work with a very diverse group of people, but it tends to be those with a similar attitude and look that cause me the most worry. However, in stating this to colleagues it can create some quite heated argument and anger so i tend to avoid it, not because of cowardice, but because I could quite simply lose my job.
discriminating on the basis of probability is not the same as prejudice.
and in fact, in an environment of pressure to maximise scarce resources, this experience-led judgement can be argued to maximise effective use of police resources.
And yes, I agree with you, the two that would have been stopped were the two young males in their tracksuits looking furtive.
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