One of the discouraging things in life is the realization that not everyone is honest. Some people lie, and it is always a battle to figure out when people are lying. There are a number of approaches to dealing with this issue.
One is technological, best exemplified by the lie detector. As is often noted, the efficacy of the lie detector is highly dependent on the operator. As an example of the potential problems with lie detectors, one person we know was given a pre-employment lie detector test back in the days when this was allowed, and not hired because the lie detector revealed that he had previously been incarcerated, which was wrong. On the other side of the coin, someone else of whom we know cheerfully volunteered to take a lie detector test, and that the test conclusively proved his innocence of something of which he was, in fact guilty.
Interrogation by a skilled interrogator, according to a recent discussion we heard, is accurate about fifty percent of the time. “Hard” interrogation by a skilled interrogator, according to this same roundtable of experts, is accurate about fifty percent of the time.
One can, in fact, do significantly better than fifty percent in some criminal cases through use of the Reid method of interrogation, but there are some caveats to this. First, the Reid method is inappropriate in cases where the subject is likely to be influenced by the interrogator. Inappropriate subjects include the young, the not-too-bright, and those from cultures where fear of authority will induce them to confess to things they haven’t done. And because we know that innocent people often confess for a wide variety of reasons, the Reid method also confirms confessions by getting confirming information that only the criminal would be able to know.
The Reid method has been criticized by Amnesty International (http://www.amnestyusa.org/amnestynow/false_confessions.html) for using social engineering to get people to confess by providing the suspects with a socially acceptable reason to confess. While this may seem to be a reasonable fear, it doesn’t make sense if you think it through. Imagine, for example, that you, gentle reader, have been falsely accused of sexually abusing your young grandchild. Is there any socially acceptable reason that could be presented to you which would convince you to confess to this crime? We rather think not!
What does this have to do with profiling? Well, in many circumstances we need to look at people and decide whether they are likely to be bad (or to do bad things). Profiling can be a good tool to increase the likelihood of your being right.
Now, when we speak of profiling, we don’t mean making a decision based on sex, race, or national origin. What we mean is looking for behavior that is indicative of being a risk. This is essentially the legal standard that needed to be met for a Terry stop (Terry v Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). In a Terry stop, police officers could detain you for a short period – not sufficient to be considered an arrest – and frisk you, as long as they could articulate some causal factor which rose to the level of reasonable suspicion that you were involved in a criminal activity. We distinguish this from measures designed for electioneering or PR purposes, where the only function of the measure is to give the impression that something is being done.
There are many circumstances in which we face a threat, and would like to increase the chance of catching bad guys. Shoplifting is one, and catching criminals about to do bad things is another. In both of these cases, the bad guys will almost certainly be giving physical cues that something is amiss. These visual clues can be obvious to the trained observer, and would constitute reasonable suspicion for a field interrogation.
Note that suspicion of being a person of another race, or suspicion that someone might be of a certain religion, or of a certain age and sex does not rise to the appropriate level: What we are looking for are behavioral traits that the officer can observe and articulate, not hunches or biases.
For those in the profession of executive protection or counter-terrorism, we are aware of what these behaviors are, and a bit of searching on the Internet will give you more information than you actually wanted.
The problem, of course, is that learning to recognize these behavioral signs takes training and experience. Since most public-sector measures are designed, particularly in election years, to deal with the problem of convincing people that something is being done, it is way more effective to have more intrusive measures, or to have technological solutions which can be plainly seen.
Nonetheless, in those areas where it is appropriate to be trying to stop bad guys from doing bad things, we must get past trying to solve the problem of looking as if we are doing something, and move toward actually trying to solve real problems. Profiling of behavior is well-proven, and serious consideration should be given to its implementation if you have responsibility for protection of a facility. Or if you are concerned about being able to avoid potential bad situations in your daily life.