BJS Report on Racial Profiling

Media 08.30.05

Recipient: Alberto Gonzales

The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Gonzales:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, with over 191 member organizations, we write to express our deep concern about recent newspaper reports regarding the Department’s efforts to suppress the results of a recent study on racial profiling by law enforcement, and to urge you to take immediate steps to address the longstanding need to end racial profiling in America.

Recent reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post outline efforts by the Department of Justice to prevent public disclosure of the results of an important and far reaching research report written by career statisticians at the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in April 2005. This report describes findings of clear and significant racial disparities in the rate at which motorists are searched by local law enforcement. Further, the report demonstrates that while black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than whites to be searched by law enforcement during traffic stops, they were less likely to be harboring contraband. This disparity in “hit rates” is a strong indication of the presence of racial bias in the activities of these officers. The report also found a troubling overall increase in the use of force by law enforcement, with some indication that the increase was greater among encounters involving African-Americans.

We are deeply concerned and dismayed by the reported efforts of political appointees in the Department to suppress or downplay these important findings. All of us who care about the fair administration of justice, including law enforcement agencies across the country, rely on the unbiased and apolitical work of BJS. Its reports are the gold standard for analysis of the state of our nation’s criminal justice system. Integrity in law enforcement research should be a bedrock principle of the Department’s work in this area. Attempts to undermine that integrity should not be tolerated.

Most importantly, the results of this study indicate a pressing need for the Administration to do more to address the persistent problem of racial profiling in America.

As we have argued in the past, racial profiling violates our nation’s basic constitutional commitment to equality before the law. Racial profiling is also contrary to effective law enforcement — whether used as a tool in the war against drugs or the war against terrorism, profiling fuels the perception in minority communities that the criminal justice system is unfair and undermines the trust between the police and the communities they serve.

The recent BJS study confirms that profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies is widespread, and that, despite the efforts of some states and local law enforcement agencies to address this problem, federal legislation is necessary.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, early in his term, made a commitment to work to end racial profiling. Soon thereafter, Senator Russell Feingold and Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). This bill builds on the guidance issued by the Department of Justice in June 2003, which bans federal law enforcement officials from engaging in racial profiling. ERPA would apply this prohibition to state and local law enforcement, close the loopholes to its application, include a mechanism for enforcement of the new policy, require data collection to monitor the government’s progress toward eliminating profiling, and provide best practice incentive grants to state and local law enforcement agencies that will enable agencies to use federal funds to bring their departments into compliance with the requirements of the bill. The DOJ guidance was a good first step, but ERPA is needed to “end racial profiling in America,” as President Bush and former Attorney General Ashcroft pledged to do.
In light of the continued and urgent need outlined in the recent Department of Justice Report, we urge your support for this important legislation and for you to do more to end racial profiling, once and for all.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter. If you have any questions, or wish to discuss this or any other issue important to LCCR, please contact Julie Fernandes, LCCR Senior Counsel, and 202/263-2856.


Wade Henderson
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Caroline Fredrickson
American Civil Liberties Union

Hilary Shelton

Ann Marie Tallman
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Karen Narasaki
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium

Janet Murguia
National Council of La Raza

Mary Rose Oakar
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Christine Chen
Organization of Chinese Americans

Marc Morial
National Urban League

Dr. William Schulz
Amnesty International USA