A Good Idea Gone Bad, Part IV: TSA’s Response

Posted: August 18, 2012 in Police reform, Profiling
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Less than a week after the New York Times first reported that TSA officers at Logan Airport in Boston had turned from their vaunted model program of behavior profiling to old-fashioned, ineffective and prohibited racial profiling, the TSA has announced a response: training that will tell agents they shouldn’t do what they’re doing.  According to the Times’s follow up story:

All officers at Boston Logan International Airport, where the profiling is said to have occurred, and managers of similar programs nationwide must attend a four-hour class on why racial profiling is not acceptable and why it is not an effective way to spot terrorists.  [TSA said] the class would include “a discussion on how terrorists in the United States do not match any racial or ethnic stereotype.”  Officers stationed at more than 100 airports will have to take an online “refresher course to reinforce that racial/ethnic profiling will not be tolerated,” the department said.

This is fine, as far as it goes.  But we know that these TSA agents were already trained in behavior profiling.  This must have included an explanation of its superiority over racial profiling.  Behavior profiling works, because it focuses agents on what matters: behavior related to terrorist activity; racial profiling fails to do this and introduces distractions.  Yet the message apparently didn’t “take.”  What assurance is there that this will be different?

The re-training solution also fails to get at what appeared to be two of the major issues behind this problem: 1) managers who do not understanding why profiling does not work (here’s my post on it) and 2) numbers-driven enforcement, in which managers want more activity and hits, to show their worth (here’s my post on that one).  The only real hope for change is to start by getting rid of supervisors who either encouraged or tolerated this activity.

There is one hopeful sign in the TSA announcement: Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano directed TSA “to improve the agency’s collection of data related to the program and to work with the department’s civil rights consultant to review program procedures.”  As I said in a third post on this, lack of data collection on the activity of agents means that the agency cannot possibly know what is going on, and there cannot be any true accountability.  This absolutely must change, so the Secretary’s announcement is a good sign.

I’ll be watching for further investigation and action.




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