12 October 2014

Street Smarts- Effective use of profiling

In classes we talk about how to look at scenarios like acts in a play.  You need a setting (environment), scenario, and actors.  Any situation you are involved in has all three even if the only actor is you.  The more time you spend in a specific environment the easier it is to develop a baseline.

Every morning on my way to my day job I stop off at the same convenience store for coffee.  I usually get there between 0705-0708.  This means that I usually see the same regulars inside and out.  This includes the Old Men's "coffee clutch".  I always stop and say hello on the way in and give the three dogs their cookies.  This particular convenience store is at a busy intersection in a small country town.  It also has a gas station and is close to the PA/MD border.  There is ample parking for vehicles like work trucks.  That means that day in and day out I see the same guys wearing the same company t-shirts in the same company trucks.  Because the baseline of the store during the time of day when I am there is so noticeable, a young fella really stood out to me the other morning.  As I was pouring my coffee, something caught my eye.  This fella had a gym bag over his shoulder.  I had never noticed a man carry any bag other than a backpack in that store before.  He was wearing old torn up jeans and a t-shirt.  He was not wearing the work boots that I expected to to see, instead he was wearing white tennis shoes that were filthy with dirt.  When he turned around, I could see sticking out of the pocket of his gym bag all the typical hygiene items that you would usually have in the bag.  But the bag itself appeared to be full of clothes.  It is taking me much longer to write this than it did for me to build a profile of this guy in my mind.  Probably about 30 seconds or so and here is what I came up with.  He was more transient than homeless.  Probably sofa surfing, aka sleeping on someones couch.  The lack of work boots told me he was not with any of the roofers, landscapers, or linemen who were regulars.  He was probably doing a day labor job at one of the local orchards and most likely getting breakfast before catching his ride.  At no time did I ever consider him a threat, or even suspicious.  But after that gym bag caught my eye, he was immediately off the baseline for the store at that time of day.  As a cop you profile people based on all kinds of things, and when things don't fit the profile it attracts your attention.  Just don't make the mistake of only profiling suspicious people or threats.  To get good at profiling, you need to cast a big net.

Next time you are walking into a convenience store, look at the cars parked outside.  Look at the types of cars and their bumper stickers.  Take a quick glance inside while you are at it.  Use your intuition to match the people outside up to their vehicles.  As you practice this skill, take note of what things you were basing your decisions on.   Gender, race, age, clothes, speech, actions.  Soon you will develop a filtering system based on probability that will allow you to profile people on the fly.  The more people you profile the more likely you are to identify a threat in enough time to avoid it.

Keep in mind you will find different "actors" in different environments.

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