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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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Jim Vesely
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Lee Moriwaki
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Kate Riley
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Lynne Varner
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Ryan Blethen
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August 04, 2005

Profiling Doesn't Work

Judging from the hailstorm of outraged emails, one would think my Wednesday column proposed letting bomb-toting terrorists board public transportation rather than offend their sensibilities with a little law enforcement.

Not at all.

Authors of those outraged emails: peruse my column again. Or read on for a short recap.

Racial profiling as a mainstay of law enforcement does not work. This is a fact supported by law enforcement itself. It isn't about fairness or political correctness. It is about effectiveness.

We've found too many times that our alleged profiles were incorrect. Our mistakes can cost lives. The Washington, D.C., snipers continued their killing spree while law enforcement searched for a disaffected, loner white man that FBI profilers said was the killer. Turned out the killers were an African-American former military man and his sweet-faced young protege.

I'm not saying pretend race doesn't matter. I am saying don't rely on racial profiles. They are notoriously unreliable. If Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh hadn't made some crucial mistakes, we might still be looking for swarthy, Middle-Easterners for that horrific crime. In the aftermath of the 1996 bombing at the Olympics in Atlanta, law enforcement initially pinned the crime on a nerdy white guy still living with his mother. They were wrong. Time is lost when we make mistakes like that. Erroneous profiles make us close our minds to other possibilities.

The sooner we realize that the virulent form of pan-Islam contributing to a rise in terrorism comes in many ethnic hues, from an East African to a blue-eyed Chechnyan, the sooner we can come up with security solutions that hit terrorists before they can get off their own turf.

A far more effective move than stopping brown people wearing bulky clothes.

Respond to Lynne.

 
Posted by Lynne Varner at August 4, 2005 10:43 AM



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