WASHINGTON – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Justice Department will take new steps to bar profiling by federal law enforcement agencies, building upon a 2003 policy that had previously only addressed the consideration of race and ethnicity in conducting federal investigations. The new policy will address the use of other characteristics as well—including national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, and sexual orientation—and applies a uniform standard to all law enforcement, national security, and intelligence activities conducted by the Department’s law enforcement components. The new guidance also applies to state and local law enforcement law officers who participate in federal law enforcement task forces.
The issuance of the new policy completes a thorough review first launched by the Attorney General shortly after taking office, and reaffirms the federal government’s deep commitment to ensuring that its law enforcement agencies conduct their activities in an unbiased manner.
In announcing the new policy, the Attorney General said that biased law enforcement practices not only perpetuate negative stereotypes and promote mistrust of law enforcement, but also are counterproductive to the goal of good policing.
“As Attorney General, I have repeatedly made clear that racial profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is misguided and ineffective – because it can mistakenly focus investigative efforts, waste precious resources and, ultimately, undermine the public trust. Particularly in light of recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level – and the concerns about trust in the criminal justice process which so many have raised throughout the nation – it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute sound, fair and strong policing practices.”
The Attorney General added: “With this new Guidance, we take a major and important step forward to ensure effective policing by federal law enforcement officials – as well as state and local law enforcement participating in federal task forces throughout the nation. This Guidance is the product of five years of scrupulous review. It codifies important new protections for those who come into contact with federal law enforcement agents and their partners. And it brings enhanced training, oversight, and accountability to federal law enforcement across the country, so that isolated acts do not tarnish the exemplary work that’s performed by the overwhelming majority of America’s hard-working law enforcement officials each and every day."
The new policy, which is spelled out in a memorandum circulated Monday, instructs that, in making routine or spontaneous law enforcement decisions, officers may not use race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity to any degree, unless listed characteristics apply to a suspect description. Under the policy, federal law enforcement officers will be prohibited from acting on the belief that possession of a listed characteristic by itself signals a higher risk of criminality.
In all activities other than routine or spontaneous law enforcement, officers may consider the listed personal characteristics only to the extent there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality or timeframe, that links individuals with a listed characteristic to a particular criminal incident, criminal scheme, organization, a threat to national or homeland security, a violation of federal immigration law or an authorized intelligence activity. In relying on any of the listed characteristics, an officer must also reasonably believe that the activity to be undertaken is merited under the totality of the circumstances.