Justice Department Releases New Federal Policing Guidelines Aims To Provide Model For States


The Department of Justice and the Obama Administration will formally announce new federal policing guidelines – some five years in the making – in an effort to curb racial bias in policing. The rules will only apply to federal policing efforts, and do include some key loopholes for DHS and ICE, but the Justice Department hopes that the guidelines will also provide a model for state and local law enforcement.

Under the new rules the FBI will not be allowed to consider gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to race and ethnicity, when opening cases. However, there are allowances for the continued demographic tracking of Muslim communities, as well as profiling done by TSA in airport security lines. Immigration will also have allowances for how it deals with cases along the borders.

State and local law enforcement are generally exempt based on existing parameters around jurisdiction, however, the rules will apply to state and local law enforcement when they are involved in federal task forces. Reports suggest that the Justice Department hopes these guidelines will become a model for local law enforcement. The guidelines come as law enforcement is under intense public scrutiny following numerous incidents that have raised questions about racial bias in policing in recent years.

Last week, the Justice Department found that the Cleveland police department had a pattern of using unnecessary and unreasonable force at a “significant rate”, employing “dangerous tactics” that put the community at risk. That news came as two separate grand juries failed to indict police officers in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York.

The new guidelines have taken five years to develop, and given the nature of jurisdiction the rules cannot extend to the localities. Policing standards at the state and local level vary widely. At the same time, national media coverage of the militarization of local police forces has become more common. The Boston Marathon bombing was perhaps an inflection point for this type of coverage, as the public saw a local police force turn out in a way that more closely resembled a standing army with special forces and tactical weapons. As protests rose up in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting, police in Ferguson too presented a militarized front against protesters.

Last month, CivSource reported on a new study that shows that police are also relying heavily on social media monitoring as a means of investigating and anticipating criminal activity. License plate readers have also been employed in recent years both publicly and privately to trace transportation patterns and vehicles. Predictive analytics are adding another layer to policing capabilities, with solutions provided by IBM, SAP and others.

In the wake of the Eric Garner and Akai Gurley deaths, the New York Police Department has said it will be conducting an internal investigation into police action. That is the typical trajectory of these types of incidents, however resulting action is often difficult to track. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon originally said he would convene a special session of the state legislature to examine these issues following the death of Michael Brown, however, after the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson the officer involved, the Governor said he would no longer pursue a special session as it was unnecessary.