In two previous posts, I’ve explored the New York Times’ article of Aug. 11 that reports that efforts to institute behavior profiling seem to have slid into racial profiling by TSA agents at Boston’s Logan Airport. Among the reasons for this, I’ve said, are supervisors who still do not understand that that racial profiling is ineffective and counterproductive, and numbers-driven enforcement efforts, in which agents on the ground are pushed to produce more stops, searches, and arrests — even if they have nothing to do with terrorism.
The third problem the article highlights is data — or rather, the lack of it. It seems that those in charge at Logan have not been collecting any data on their stop and search practices. According to the Times, “The transportation agency said it did not collect information on the race or ethnicity of travelers and could not provide such a breakdown of passengers stopped through the behavior program.”
After more than ten years of news reports and advocacy on racial profiling, going back to the New Jersey Turnpike in the 1990s, it is simply astounding that a federal agency like TSA, set up to do security and enforcement tasks that may involve sensitive encounters with particular ethnic groups, in a high-security setting like an international airport, would not gather statistics on its practices. They should — in fact, they undoubtedly do — know better. No data means that it isn’t possible to prove whether they may or may not be engaged in profiling. And perhaps that is the why they have not collected data.
Of course, no data means that TSA is in no position to say they are not engaged in profiling, either. The public is simply left wondering whether to accept the TSA’s professions of innocence on the subject.
There’s an old saying from business: you can’t manage what you don’t measure. At Logan, stop and search activity is not being measured — not even in basic ways. And that almost certainly means ineffective management. The failure to gather data shows that if there is racial profiling happening at Logan, it isn’t a problem of one or a few “bad apples.” Rather, it is a systemic management issue that allows this to occur, or even encourages it. And that’s something we can’t tolerate. As one of the TSA officers who complained about the profiling said, focusing on minority members “takes officers away from the real threat, and we could miss a terrorist we are looking for.”