Tuesday, December 09, 2014

DOJ Expands Ban on Law Enforcement Profiling To Include Religion and Other Characteristics

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the issuance of new guidelines on profiling by federal law enforcement officials (and local officials participating in federal task forces).  The new Guidance for Federal Law Enforcement Agencies (full text) adds national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, and sexual orientation to the already existing prohibitions on racial and ethnic profiling imposed in 2003.  The 11-page document sets out both in general principles and examples guidance on when the covered characteristics can and cannot be used.

Officials may still use race, religion, ethnicity, or any of the other prohibited bases for profiling when
there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality or time frame, that links persons possessing a particular listed characteristic to an identified criminal incident, scheme, or organization, a threat to national or homeland security, a violation of Federal immigration law, or an authorized intelligence activity.
Here are two interesting examples from the many set out in the new Guidance:
  • A law enforcement officer who is working as part of a federal task force has received a reliable tip that an individual intends to detonate a homemade bomb in a train station during rush hour, but the tip does not provide any more information.  The officer harbors stereotypical views about religion and therefore decides that investigators should focus on individuals of a particular faith. Doing so would be impermissible because a law enforcement officer’s stereotypical beliefs never provide a reasonable basis to undertake a law enforcement or intelligence action.
  • An FBI field office attempts to map out the features of the city within its area of responsibility in order to gain a better understanding of potential liaison contacts and outreach opportunities. In doing so, the office acquires information from public sources regarding population demographics, including concentrations of ethnic groups. This activity is permissible if it is undertaken pursuant to an authorized intelligence or investigative purpose. The activity would not be permitted without such an authorized purpose or in circumstances that do not otherwise meet the requirements of this Guidance.
MSNBC reports on release of the new guidelines.