Behavioral Profiling Is Useful When Appropriately Applied

Pattern recognition and body language is something that the Israelis understand very well. U.S. campuses can take advantage of these techniques if they apply them properly.

How often have you looked across your campus and observed music or band students carrying a guitar or instrument, or perhaps an agriculture student carrying something as benign as a birdcage? These items in and of themselves are not a threat, yet we must take the time to look at the behavior of the person holding these objects, the appearance of the package itself and the manner in which they carry them.

The 2013 Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange delegation was given a tour of the Israel police bomb disposal unit, and we saw those things I just described. What drew our attention to them was the unusual behavior of the person holding them. Pattern recognition and body language is something that the Israelis understand very well. A quick inspection of the “guitar” revealed powder explosives hidden inside. And the birdcage you may wonder? Well, when was the last time you saw a toggle switch in the side of a bird cage? A closer look revealed that the “birds” inside were mounted specimens and were there just for show.

Now, let me be perfectly clear here: I’m not in any form encouraging any “bias-based” policing where a person is profiled by race, religion or any other factor. What I am saying is to look at the behavior of the person who seems to be engaged in normal activity and yet they are really doing something covertly sinister. How many times as a police or security officer did you have that feeling that the behavior you were observing did not fit? While always taking into account civil rights, you need to investigate when that observation of something that is not right becomes something that any reasonable person standing there with you would say, “What is that person up to? That does not look right.” In most cases, research has shown that perpetrators of violent acts may do reconnaissance or a dry run on their target before they act.

The Israel police and security agencies are masters at gathering intelligence. Surveillance cameras are located in strategic locations throughout the country. Although we were certainly not in top secret areas or made privy to classified information, we were given a great deal of access to areas and information that most people will never see. What we saw is just the surface and it runs much deeper. 

We were, however, asked not to photograph most of the command centers where the images were coming in, and we were further asked not to be overly descriptive of the Israeli technology employed when discussing our trip upon return to the United States. It is safe to say, however, that they use technology and intelligence gathering very effectively, and the operators of cameras know every inch of ground on their electronic beat. They also use other covert technology located inside and outside of the country to gain intelligence. With technology advances in the last two decades alone, one can only imagine what is being utilized.

The key in my mind here to focus on is what they are looking for: normal everyday activities, versus ones that are sinister, yet disguised as normal. They check out things like someone suspicious carrying a tennis racket in a case, yet the closest tennis court is miles away. A further step here after contact is made would be to ask them about tennis, and when reactions reveal that they obviously do not play the game,  go further in the inquiry. Again, they have different rules of law regarding stops and search and seizure than we do, so bear that in mind when you act on things you see on your campus that cues your attention. Again, ensure you look at behavior patterns that raise suspicions, not anything that would be considered bias-based policing. As with any action you take, be prepared to articulate your actions in writing.

Rod Ellis is a 26 year law enforcement veteran and police instructor and serves as the Chief of Police of the Glynn County School District in Brunswick, Ga. He can be reached at

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