Throughout my career, I often heard cops say that if it walked like a duck, it was a duck. And for the most part—and to the considerable dismay of a good many profiling critics—it pretty much turned out to be the case.
Nowadays, thanks in no small part to Hollywood and Madison Avenue who have co-opted the surly-assed attitude and attire of the gangsta crowd, one can’t comfortably make such a categorical assertion. So many impressionable youngsters and dipshits dress and act like gangstas that it’s hard to tell who’s got real street cred.
But whether or not it’s a duck, a goose, or some other baggypanted avian, it’s apparent that we do offer first impressions a great deal of credibility.
Unfortunately, many criminals exploit our bias in order to fly under the radar.
Some get away with their criminal acts by hiding in plain sight. Often it comes down to attire and timing. And often, they approach it from opposite ends of the sartorial spectrum.
Case in point: Howard Allen Young, 41, who succeeded in breaking into at least 26 high-tech companies throughout Silicon Valley over a four-year period, making off with more than $3 million in computer parts, often while attired in a suit and tie.
“Office creepers” are notorious for dressing well so as to blend in with the normal office workplace for the purpose of stealing laptops and other office equipment. One Boca Raton burglar even chatted up some officer workers and told them to “Have a nice day!” before walking off with three laptops.
Then there’s the filthy wino who you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole and five layers of latex gloves—and the local drug dealers know it. They will often use them or look like them to hide their stash.
These same criminals have developed a means to counter profiling even as they exploit it. Figuring that two middle-aged white women will not attract the attention of two young black me, drug dealers will have them transport narcotics along interstate drug routes.
These dealers may even up the ante, stiffing in a call on a decoy while their mule slips through undetected.
In this regard, they operate in much the same manner as Soviet spies who would insert their own among the transient populations of developing Western European countries—in effect, hiding them in plain sight.
Have you ever copied a crime broadcast only to realize that you’d seen that same make and model car only 10 minutes before? The driver looked clean cut, but something still bugged you about him? Even more so when you later saw his mug on a wanted poster?
Sometimes, people deserve a second glance, maybe even a consensual contact, regardless whether it’s day or night, good weather or bad.
It goes beyond making arrests. It’s a matter of officer safety.
If it walks like a duck, it ain’t always a duck. And sometimes the “ducks” can go undercover, too.