WASHINGTON – The Justice Department issued new guidance Thursday emphasizing that investigations must be free from bias involving race and gender or against people with disabilities. Anti-profiling rules were also expanded to include thousands more people who work in the justice system.
The guidelines obtained by The Associated Press are the first updates in nearly a decade and now cover thousands more people than before, including prosecutors, lawyers, analysts and contractors. They already applied to agents for Justice Department agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration and local officers who work with them on task forces.
Released on the third anniversary of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the update also requires, for the first time, more extensive data collection measures that are intended to ensure the guidance is being followed.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility to lead by example,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the changes are a step forward, but that the guidelines don't fully ban bias across national security activities, including areas where the most harm have occurred like watch lists and pressuring to become informants.
“We welcome the improvements the Justice Department has made, but are disappointed that after so much work and communities’ calls for change, this policy falls short of a full and effective ban on discrimination by federal agencies,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, in a statement.
The Justice Department effort is intended to root out biased practices condemned as unfair and likely to create mistrust and violate civil rights. The guidelines aim to bar bias based on the use of race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and now, disability.
“Fair and unbiased law enforcement practices are smart and effective law enforcement practices,” according to the guidance.
Details about those characteristics can be used, though, if investigators obtain such information along with additional, detailed context that shows it's reliable and linked to a specific incident or investigation.
For example, investigators could not single out people of a certain race or faith based on a tip about a possible attack without any specifics about date, time or a full description of a suspect.
Training on the new guidelines will be required to start within a year for people newly covered by the guidelines, as well as local law enforcement deputized to work with federal agencies on task forces.
To make sure the rules are being carried out, the law enforcement agencies must begin tracking complaints alleging bias within six months. They also must create data-driven research projects to track how the guidelines are playing out and report on that research within a year.