Criminal Profiling: Effective or Illegal?
Racial Profiling in the Criminal Justice System
There are two types of criminal profiling used in law enforcement today: inductive and deductive. Inductive profiling uses information from offenders of similar crimes to determine the probable characteristics of the perpetrator for the crime at hand. Deductive profiling uses information and evidence of the current crime to, in effect, mentally reenact the crime and determine psychological characteristics and motives of the criminal whom they are investigating. Law enforcers have long debated which technique is more effective, as both involve very different processes. In recent times, both methods have come under scrutiny as public awareness of these methods increases. Criminal profiling is supposed to be used only in cases of extreme or notable violence, such as in ritual or serial killings, or when the criminal is thought to be psychologically unstable.
The validity of criminal profiling depends on its level of scientific integrity, especially when being used as evidence in a criminal prosecution. Much of the information derived from the profiling process is inferred, so it can be very subjective. It is important for investigators to use as much objective evidence as possible when developing their criminal profile. While historically similar incidents can be a good reference for the current investigation of crimes, the character profile of the criminal inferred from this information may not necessarily be accurate. Much of the information derived from criminal profiling may be considered probabilistic in nature, and thus not empirical enough to hold up in court.
A less scientific and more controversial aspect of criminal profiling is racial profiling. Criminal profiling is officially used for determining the psychological characteristics of a criminal as evidence for a fair trial. Classic criminal profiling is commonly used by federal investigators, but racial profiling on the other hand is more commonly associated with lower-level law enforcers who use race or ethnicity to determine whether or not an individual is criminally suspect. Law enforcers may use statistical evidence or personal prejudices to decide whether or not to engage with certain individuals. This method of criminal profiling has become controversial because of its use of past, subjective inferences rather than present, suspicious activity to determine whether a particular individual may or may not be a criminal. Its critics also call it criminal racism.
In one case of racial profiling gone awry, a Cambridge police officer arrested black Harvard professor Henry Gates outside his own home in July of 2009. Gates, who had just returned from a trip overseas, arrived home to find his own door stuck. The officer, a Sergeant James Crowley, was dispatched to Gates’ home, and eventually arrested Gates for disorderly conduct. The story was widely covered by news outlets, and refreshed racial profiling as a discussion topic. Supporters of Crowley defend his actions as appropriate for police officers responding to a potential break-in, while others claim that the officer would have reacted differently had Gates been white.
Many people argue that racial profiling is in direct conflict with Fourth Amendment rights. The amendment, which deals with a citizen’s right against illegal searches, states that no ones property should be searched without proper probable cause. Critics of racial profiling do not consider ethnicity to be reason enough to establish criminal activity and believe that no one should be especially targeted because of ethnic or racial orientation.
Supporters of racial profiling, members of the law enforcement community that value criminal prosecution for petty or serious crimes over the civil rights of citizens, contend that racial activity is a useful and proven tool for determining criminality. Many also argue that racial profiling may in fact be a necessary branch of law enforcement and that proper examination of sociological trends may determine which people are more likely to commit crimes.