Saturday, January 16, 2010

Political Correctness and Security

Like it or not, political correctness – loosely defined as being consciously cautious of doing or saying anything to minimalize or denigrate any particular group – is here to stay. And like it or not, political correctness is an impediment to good security.

As a career security practitioner, I have had to deal with a great diversity of persons and ideas. And even if I do say so myself, I am one of the least biased persons I know – I believe I am tolerant of just about everyone and everything...until I have some reason to not be tolerant. And therein lies the problem with political correctness.

Perhaps – I hope – it’s just a matter of our not finding a more appropriate term in our American-English language. But I think that we sometimes confuse political correctness with a legitimate response to facts; and when we deal with facts, political correctness should take a back seat. Let me illustrate:

Retail establishments frequently utilize security personnel to guard against thievery. When a review of theft incidents over a lengthy period of time factually determines that 83% of apprehensions for theft were of black (or white or yellow or brown) females between the ages of 15 and 24, why should it be considered politically incorrect to focus surveillance activities on the persons of that particular demographic? In fact, wouldn’t a store security agent be remiss in his duties if he ignored such documented facts and trends?

The groups “offended” by acts of political incorrectness have become so outraged and vocal that some of us have become overly cautious in our interactions. We choose our words and our actions so carefully that we almost never say what is really on our minds or say what we really mean – even when it is the truth. In fact, it is almost impossible to say or do anything that will not “offend” someone’s sensitivities.

But even when that is the case, security practitioners should not – and cannot – let the quest for political correctness override their protective responsibilities. No, we should not target or accuse anyone needlessly; but neither should we look the other way when facts clearly demonstrate that someone or some group bears additional scrutiny. We cannot ignore the female customers in the store per the example above; we cannot ignore the black driver cruising the white neighborhood at 3:00 AM; we cannot ignore the young Middle Eastern man buying a one-way ticket with cash at the airline counter. When we have objectively gathered the facts and the facts reveal distinct patterns, we cannot ignore those patterns for the sake of being politically correct. We must continue to use the information available to us to be diligent in the performance of our duties, for to do otherwise is in itself a serious abrogation of our responsibility.

Come to think of it, I guess I’m not being politically correct just by questioning political correctness.

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