World & Nation

Justice Department unveils new rules on racial, ethnic profiling

Eric Holder
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to release on Monday a broader policy that bars profiling by most federal law officers.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

New Justice Department guidelines announced Monday seek to limit federal law enforcement officers’ ability to use a person’s race and other characteristics during investigations, particularly in spontaneous enforcement decisions.

According to a copy of new guidelines obtained by the Los Angeles Times on Monday, profiling should never be used in routine or spontaneous situations like ordinary traffic stops, unless race or other characteristics are part of a specific subject description.

In all other activities, officers may consider race or other characteristics “only to the extent that there is trustworthy information. . . 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,” the guidelines say.

The revised guidelines broaden a 2003 prohibition on religious or ethnic profiling. The policy will bar profiling based on religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, as the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.


The rules do not apply to local law enforcement officers unless they are participating in federal task forces.

The policy also does not apply to Border Patrol officers working “in the vicinity of the border,” nor the Transportation Security Administration and other officers working at airports. The Secret Service will not be covered either.

The new policy was described by a Justice Department official as one of Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s “signature accomplishments,” which he pushed hard to finalize before his planned departure early next year.

“As attorney general, I have repeatedly made clear that profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective – because it wastes precious resources and undermines the public trust,” Holder said in a statement released Monday.


“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, which so many have raised throughout the nation – it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices,” Holder said.

He was alluding to incidents in New York and Ferguson, Mo., in which unarmed black men died during encounters with white police officers. Those deaths have led to protests across the nation.

The Justice official said that Holder intends to “aggressively” impose the changes and that the attorney general hopes they become a model for state and local authorities.

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said the exclusions for certain Border Patrol and TSA activities did not mean that profiling would be freely allowed, but that it would be permissible to rely in part on the banned characteristics “because of the unique nature of border and transportation security.”

Twitter: @timphelpsLAT

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