Law enforcement practice of racial profiling under fire
June 9, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton announced Wednesday he is taking action on the federal level to stop what he called the "morally indefensive and deeply corrosive" practice of racial profiling. He called on local law enforcement agencies to do likewise.
The tactic, used by some law enforcement agencies, calls for stopping and questioning people solely because of the color of their skin on the belief that certain ethnic groups may be more likely to commit a particular crime.
Addressing the opening session of a Justice Department conference aimed at improving relations between police and minorities, the president said he had ordered federal law enforcement officials to collect data on the race and gender of the people they stop to question or arrest.
"While public confidence in the police has been growing steadily overall, people of color continue to have less confidence and less trust, and believe they are targeted for action," he said. "We must stop the morally indefensible, deeply corrosive practice of racial profiling."
Clinton said he hoped the federal step would encourage state and local officials to examine their own law enforcement agencies for evidence of racial profiling.
Clinton also said he supports legislation before Congress that would provide funds for states to collect similar data, a move law enforcement officials generally have resisted.
The president recounted how he once asked a group of black journalists how many of them had ever been stopped by police "in their minds for no reason other than the color of their skin."
All of them raised their hands, he said.
"People of color have the same reaction wherever you go," Clinton told a group of law enforcement and civil rights leaders participating in the two-day Police Integrity Conference. "No person of color is immune from such humiliating experiences."
Clinton's executive order calls on the Treasury, Justice and Transportation departments to develop a proposal within 120 days so that all Cabinet agencies can begin collecting data on the race, gender and ethnicity of people they stop.
"The Justice Department will then analyze this data to assess whether and where law enforcement is engaged in racial profiling and what concrete steps we need to take at the national level to eliminate it anywhere it exists," Clinton said.
"We hope that all of you will support us in this endeavor," the president asked of the conference participants.
The study would affect, for example, Customs agents and Immigration and Naturalization officials at U.S. ports of entry, as well as the police who patrol U.S. parklands.
Earlier, as Attorney Janet Reno opened the conference at a Washington hotel, she announced that next month the Justice Department would begin to "survey Americans about their experiences with traffic stops."
She called on conference participants to "fashion recommendations and best practices that local, state and federal agencies can follow."
"We need to leave here," she said, "with a commitment to put into place concrete steps that will reduce the potential for instances of excessive force and racial profiling and that will strengthen relations between the police and the community."
The Police Integrity Conference comes in the aftermath of several high-profile cases involving allegations of police brutality.
In the most recent example, a jury on Tuesday found a New York City police officer guilty of holding down Abner Louima while another officer sodomized the Haitian immigrant in 1997. The other officer pleaded guilty last month.
Three additional officers facing civil rights charges were acquitted.
"Effective policing does not mean abusive policing," Reno said. "Across the country there are nearly 700,000 law enforcement officers, and the overwhelming majority are hard-working public servants who care deeply and who do a dangerous job justly, fairly, with excellence and with honor."
"But we, as a society," she said, "cannot tolerate officers who mistreat law-abiding citizens or who bring their own racial bias to the job of policing."
5 areas of concern
Reno said the conference would focus on five topics:
"Improvements in these areas can come from several directions," Reno said.
"For example, changes in policies on high-speed chases and the use of chokeholds and other restraints have made a real difference in many (police) departments in their efforts to reduce the number of incidents in which deadly force was used," she said.
"Tensions between police and minority residents affect all aspects of the criminal justice system," Reno said.
"When citizens do not trust their local police officer they are less willing to report crime (and) less willing to be witnesses in criminal cases," she said. "Jurors are less willing to accept as truthful the testimony of officers and recruitment of police officers from minority communities becomes that much more difficult."
Justice Department officials hope that, by sitting police and civil rights leaders down together over the next two days, they can find answers to a very divisive issue.
Police, civil rights leaders sit down to build bridges
Official New York City Web site
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