As your Sheriff’s Office works toward a safer Columbia; it’s important for our partners in the community to understand how we protect and why we do some of the things we do.
The Difference Between Bias-Based Policing & Criminal Profiling
Bias-based policing is the use of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, background, age, or culture as the sole basis for police activity. It is commonly known as racial profiling. This type of policing is not a legitimate law enforcement technique. In fact, it is against agency policy for Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Deputies to practice bias-based policing. The agency is committed to the fair and equal treatment of every member of the public.
Criminal Profiling is a legitimate law enforcement technique that uses knowledge, training, and experience to narrow a field of suspects during a criminal investigation. Factual information, patterns of activity, and motives are some of the aspects considered when using criminal profiling to identify a suspect. From these facts and factors, we may be able to identify a type of person or group of people by gender, age, race and/or by personality, social, and/or other characteristics that are most likely involved in criminal activity. This can result in fewer suspects to consider and a quicker resolution to the case.
It is the policy of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office to patrol in a proactive manner, to investigate suspicious persons and/or circumstances, and to enforce motor vehicle laws. We are here to protect the community. Law enforcement officers are required to use skills developed through observation, training and experience in order to identify suspicious circumstances, unusual occurrences and violations of law, and to act according to the situation. Therefore, officers focus on a person’s conduct or other specific suspect information, and will have reasonable suspicion that the person contacted has been, is, or is about to commit a violation of the law.
The absence of facts, suspicious activity, or specific criminal information is what separate bias-based policing from legitimate criminal profiling.
What Can Officers Legally Do?
Officers can detain and engage any member of the public for investigative purposes when:
- There is reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a person may have been involved in or have knowledge of a crime
- Suspicious activity is observed
- There is criminal information (such as a suspect or vehicle description) that must be acted upon.
A police officer can, and frequently does, engage any member of the public to:
- Inquire about possible criminal activities in the area
- Speak with a witness who is not suspected of a crime
- Educate people on ways to avoid or deter crime
- Render assistance in situations not involving suspected criminal activity (for example, a medical emergency).
As part of building good relationships with the public, officers routinely engage in conversations with residents. In these kinds of situations, you are always free to decline or end any conversation with an officer and walk away.
If you think your encounter with a deputy was bias based, remain calm and ask the deputy the reason for the encounter. If you are not satisfied with the reason, respectfully ask the deputy for his/her name, ID number, and ask to speak with his/her supervisor. Please feel free to make a complaint if you feel you are a victim of bias based profiling with our command staff via email or call us at (386) 752-9212.