Representative William Keating is calling for a Congressional hearing to investigate allegations of racial profiling by Transportation Security Administration officers at Logan International Airport.
More than 30 officers taking part in a “behavior detection” program at the Boston airport filed internal complaints about colleagues who focus on minorities during security checks, The New York Times reported Sunday. The TSA is investigating.
“There is no place for racial or ethnic profiling in our security policies, period,” Keating, a Bourne Democrat and ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security’s oversight and investigation subcommittee, said in a statement. “These are serious accusations that urgently need to be investigated. Last year, there was a Congressional Subcommittee Field Hearing at Logan, which highlighted that the airport’s security policies are some of the best in the country. If TSA officers, however, have evidence of racial profiling, this needs to be addressed immediately since the Logan program is the vanguard and model for the entire country.
“The behavioral detection program if implemented properly offers another level of security that technological screening cannot. However, if the program is skewed by racial profiling, it is not only illegal; it undercuts the effectiveness of the program itself.”
Concerns about racial profiling at Logan came to a head last month, the Times reported, at a meeting where numerous officers submitted written complaints. They said minorities including black, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern passengers had been routinely pulled aside for searches and questioning, in screenings designed to scan for suspicious behavioral cues such as sweating, fidgeting, or avoiding eye contact.
Officers who complained suggested that mounting pressure from program managers to tally high numbers of stops and searches may have contributed to an increase in the practice.
Experts on security screening practices said the news out of Logan was especially disappointing because the use of behavior detection was developed as a way to avoid profiling by race. The Boston program had been touted as a model of more sophisticated screening.
“I’m a little depressed,” said Jack McDevitt, director of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University, which documented widespread racial inequities in a 2004 study of traffic stops by Massachusetts police. “I had hoped that using behavioral cues could be race neutral. . . . It shows how hard it is to disentangle race.”
The TSA vowed in a statement e-mailed to the Globe on Sunday to “take immediate and decisive action” if the claims about profiling are proven accurate.
“Racial profiling is not tolerated within the ranks of TSA,” the statement said. “Profiling is not only discriminatory, but it is also an ineffective way to identify someone intent on doing harm.”
The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, called racial profiling illegal and ineffective
“We take these allegations very seriously,” David S. Mackey, Massport’s interim chief executive and director, said in a statement Sunday. “We are eager to review the findings of a federal investigation.”
Katie Johnston can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.