US Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled his new restrictions on law enforcement on December 4, 2014. Stating that the new policies have been in development for the last five years, Holder believes the US needs stricter parameters within which police should operate. These new guidelines are applicable – for the moment – only to Federal law enforcement.
Citing events in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland, the AG touted these new measures as reforms that will help alleviate racial prejudice in law enforcement. Building on decade old policy introduced by Bush 42’s administration, these new policies ban any form of profiling on the basis of religion, nationality, sex, race, gender identity, sexual preference, and other characteristics. Holder stated that he sees this as the first step in creating a model for local law enforcement agencies to operate under.
“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,” the Attorney General stated. The incidents referred to include the self-defense shooting of a subject who attacked a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri as well as the recent death of a known criminal who was resisting arrest by New York Police Department officers. Both of these incidents were considered justified by departmental investigation and failed to receive a “true bill” indictment from Grand Juries. Eric Holder’s Department of Justice continues to investigate both incidents.
The guidelines released in Holder’s new policy cover some Federal agencies but do not yet govern local law enforcement. The FBI, DEA and ATF are to abide by these new regulations. However, the Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Patrol and TSA are not held to Holder’s new policy. In explanation, the Attorney General offered that Homeland security officials argued for exemptions based on “the unique nature of border and transportation security as compared to traditional law enforcement.” The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) has issued a statement calling the exemption unacceptable. The ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office Director, Laura Murphy issued a statement saying, “This guidance is not an adequate response to the crisis of racial profiling in America.”
Holder confirmed his intent to pressure local law enforcement agencies to adopt the new policy when he speaks with non-federal law enforcement leaders on December 8, 2014. However, while exemptions were made for Federal agencies that deem it necessary to include consideration of certain individual characteristics in their investigative procedure, no exceptions were made for other forms of law enforcement. For example, a TSA agent may use a form of profiling in their security screens, but a patrol officer may not consider any individual characteristic in his daily duty. Department of Homeland Security agents are allowed to consider such traits as political affiliation and religion in investigations deemed relevant to national security, yet narcotics interdiction officers would not be allowed to consider aspects such as illegal status or nation of origin in smuggling investigations. The policy would also harm the individual officer’s ability to serve as first line of defense in preventing terrorist attacks. This is a drastic change from post-911 calls for law enforcement to be more vigilant on issues relating to homeland security. If Holder succeeds in convincing local law enforcement leaders to adopt this policy it would severely impact police officer’s ability to build the “totality of the circumstances” in many investigations. This could effectively cripple the Nation’s law enforcement from successfully resolving many cases.
As police officers on streets across the nation face being rendered impotent to protect their communities and enforce the law, Holder brags that the policy is a “major and important step forward to ensure effective policing.”