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New federal guidelines ban racial profiling

Justice Department allows exceptions for terrorism probes

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department issued guidelines Tuesday designed to end racial profiling by federal agents in routine police work but allow the use of race and ethnicity to identify terrorism suspects.

The directives, approved by President Bush, forbid federal agents in all 70 agencies that have police powers from considering race or ethnicity in such routine practices as stopping drivers for traffic violations, even though such practices might not be prohibited under the Constitution or federal laws.

However, in the government's effort to identify terrorists, the new guidelines allow any and all practices that do not violate federal laws or the Constitution, officials said. Therefore, the arrests and detentions of Middle Eastern immigration violators stemming from the post-September 11, 2001, investigation would be permissible, a top Justice Department official said.

Federal law enforcement officials also might continue to rely upon specific descriptions of the physical appearance of criminal suspects in particular cases.

"Today's guidance ... is the clearest and most comprehensive statement and guidance regarding the consideration of race and ethnicity in law enforcement activities from any administration, ever," said Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd Jr. "We've done our very best to get it right. We think we have."

The ACLU and other critics said they think otherwise.

"The guidelines acknowledge racial profiling as a national concern but do nothing to stop it," said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU office in Washington. "The new policy guidelines provide no rights or remedies."

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said most complaints of racial profiling come from state and local police agencies, and that congressional action is needed to end the practice.

"While these guidelines send a signal, they are not a replacement for the enactment of comprehensive federal antiprofiling legislation," Conyers said.

Report finds little government profiling

The guidelines cover only federal agencies, not state and local police agencies. Boyd said the administration hopes state and local officials will use the federal policies as a "model" where policies do not exist.

start quoteWe've done our very best to get it right. We think we have.end quote
-- Ralph Boyd Jr., assistant attorney general

Boyd released copies of the guidelines along with a report compiled by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson that examines the extent of racial profiling by the federal government. The internal study found no widespread problem.

"Although any incident of racial profiling is unacceptable, the information provided by federal agencies ... did not disclose any basis for concluding that racial profiling is a systemic problem within the federal law enforcement community," according to Thompson's report.

But the governmentwide survey found that most agencies had no policy or training to deal with the issue.

"As of February 2002, only four of the 18 'first-tier' agencies [FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs, and U.S. Capitol Police] had policies that specifically prohibited racial profiling," according to the report.

Officials said the study of racial profiling began before the September 11 attacks, when the issue was most closely associated with efforts to combat drug trafficking. Civil rights organizations charged that blacks in particular were targeted by zealous officials.

Since the attacks, the larger focus has centered on charges by Arab-American organizations that their communities have been unfairly targeted by federal agencies.

Issues in conflict

The Justice Department report reviewed the range of complaints from racial and ethnic groups and reflected on the complexity of the problems.

"The FBI and Customs have been accused of unfairly targeting Arab-Americans as potential terrorists," the report said. "Conversely, the Department of Transportation has been criticized in the wake of September 11 for failing to take into account race and ethnicity in determining which airline passengers to subject to enhanced security screening procedures."

The new guidelines announced Tuesday attempted to address the sometimes-conflicting issues.

"The guidance recognizes that race and ethnicity may properly play a role in terrorist identification and suppression, but only under narrow circumstances permitted by our nation's laws and the Constitution of the United States," Boyd said. "The policy guidance emphasizes that even in the national security context, reliance on mere generalized racial or ethnic stereotypes remains forbidden."

CNN Justice producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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