Obama Announces New Racial-Profiling Guidelines

By Julissa Catalan


In the wake of Eric Garner‘s and Michael Brown‘s deaths at the hands of police officers, the Obama administration released new racial-profiling guidelines for U.S. law-enforcement officials on Monday.

The new guidelines are meant to replace the last set, which were put in place by the Bush administration in 2003, closing a loophole that previously allowed profiling for national-security investigations.

The new rules prohibit profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion or sexual orientation and apply to federal officers—such as Secret Service agents and the FBI—and any local police officers who participate in taskforce assignments.

For the first time these rules also apply to the Department of Homeland Security—including all Immigration and Customs Enforcement civil immigration enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard law-enforcement activities, Border Patrol activities not near the border, Department of Homeland Security officers protecting government buildings, and federal air marshals.

However, they do not apply to Border Patrol and airport screeners because the “unique nature of border and transportation security as compared to traditional law enforcement” justified the exclusion of those activities.

“As attorney general, I have repeatedly made clear that profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective,” outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

“Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level, and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal-justice process, it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices.”

According to the document, federal agents can use race to help identify suspects as part of a description, but cannot stereotype an entire group for possible criminal behavior.

The document includes multiple scenarios to help guide officials.

For example, if an officer notices that most cars on a particular road are driving above the speed limit, he or she may not use one of the banned characteristics to choose a car to pull over.

But if the officer receives a bulletin to be on the lookout for a “man of a particular race and particular hair color in his 30s driving a blue automobile,” the officer may pull people over based on those criteria.

Though these new rules have been in the works for five years—and don’t directly apply to local police officers—many are seeing these revisions as a step toward ending racial profiling by law-enforcement officials.

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