Last month, a TSA Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) helped rescue a kidnapped woman as she was trying to pass through a TSA checkpoint at Miami International Airport. (Take a look at the CNN article of the incident here.) I completely understand that this story sounds a little bit like a Jerry Springer episode, but for the sake of explaining how Kinesic clusters build on each other, I am going to write about it as if it was a legit kidnapping.
What the officers picked up on was her body language that we would put into the “Uncomfortable Cluster” and even though we can assume that many people demonstrate some degree of discomfort as they make their way through the airport checkpoints, the high intensity of these cues made her standout from the baseline, get contacted, and ultimately got her rescued.
This case provides a good example of the need to contact every anomaly we identify. Learning how to profile doesn’t turn you into a mind reader and there could be a number of causes for the victim’s discomfort as she made her way into the TSA checkpoint. We have to contact the anomaly so that we can figure out what is causing the person to react they way they have to their surroundings. There are a number of reasons a person may give off this type of body language in this setting. It could have been nerves at potentially getting searched by the TSA. It could have been that she was smuggling drugs through the checkpoint and was nervous about getting caught. In this case it was that she had been kidnapped and was nervous about what could happen to her if she wasn’t rescued. The contact phase is how we can reduce the risk of “false positives” and clearly identify the cause for the limbic system response.
This is how the clusters begin to build on each other. By combining the Uncomfortable cluster with the Interested cluster, an observer can further identify the cause for the discomfort. In the article, you would have read that the TSA cited the victim’s discomfort with the people she was travelling with as one of the causes for her getting contacted. Obviously I wasn’t there to witness this, but I would assume this was an observation made during the questioning of the victim as she betrayed her affiliation with the kidnappers by showing that her attention was not solely on the TSA officer doing the questioning, but split between the TSA and her kidnappers. This could have been picked up by identifying continuous glances back towards the kidnappers and even potentially turning of her body in their direction. She would have been doing this to further assess the situation and determine the ramifications for telling the TSA what was happening, but would have given an observer the ability to figure out the cause for her intense discomfort.
The other “Interest” that could have alerted the TSA agents to the reason for the girl’s discomfort could have been in the kidnappers intense interest in the girl during her questioning. If they were concerned about getting turned in, they may have shown a high degree of interest as they were trying to assess the situation and figure out how they would need to react.
Even though I’ve made some assumptions about the behavior of the girl and the kidnappers in this situation, being able to apply the Interested vs. Uninterested cluster to the other four (Dominant vs. Submissive and Uncomfortable vs. Comfortable) can help identify the cause behind the behavior you are observing. If you contact a person while you are on patrol, either overseas or here in the states, and identify behavior that is a response to stress, ask yourself what the cause for that behavior may be. If the suspect’s interest is solely focused on you, it may be you that is causing the response, and they may perceive you as the threat. If their attention is divided between you and the crowd of people watching, it may not be you, but what will happen to them by a person in the crowd if they are seen as cooperating with the authorities. Taking this observation into account can help ensure that you get the most complete information out of each contact.