When asked, independent of any other information, to form a mental image of a dangerous criminal offender, we tend to fall back on a combination of half-remembered images from the past, examples in media and, to a very large degree, internally maintained preconceptions. But how closely do our personal impressions hew to the truth of what is represented in the world? Moreover, to what extent do they and should they drive our choices about risk?
In this recent example from local police records, we are faced with open conflict between what we might picture and objective reality. Case in point: age 17, female, conventionally attractive, and (let’s be honest about a widespread bias) white. With those as the elements to consider, would we deem them representative of someone who is the principal in a conspiracy to murder us in the street? Compared to what is seen in mass-media reporting, it would not appear so. It simply seems inconceivable, even impossible, that someone with no common threat markers, and several we would typically find exclusionary from high-risk categories, might be acting against our very lives.
But if the current charges are to be believed, the pictured offender did indeed coolly arrange the ambush murder of a friend, an execution that only failed because of her co-conspirator’s inaccurate rifle shot. Moreover, she was facing drug charges in another case, perhaps unrelated, at the time of this alleged offense and has yet to be captured by the police despite being actively sought in several jurisdictions. Demographics are not destiny, we are told, and neither should they drive threat assessment and behavior prediction.
This case points out that the surface features of appearance can often blind us to the Violent Criminal Actor beneath. Deceived by our own preconceptions, we might be convinced to allow her closer than we would someone who better fits our internal version of the part, and we might pay a dear price indeed for our unexplored bias. Behavior and demeanor often reveal true purposes; looks seldom do the same. As ever, thank you for reading!
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