WASHINGTON: US Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled new guidelines aimed at broadening a ban on profiling by law enforcement on Monday following widespread outrage over the deaths of black men by white police officers.
With the exception of cases related to border or national security, Holder announced measures to ban arrests or identity checks based on an individual’s race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Holder, who is black, referenced the recent deaths of African-American men at the hands of police in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland and Phoenix.
“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,” Holder said.
“As Attorney General, I have repeatedly made clear that profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective – because it wastes precious resources and undermines the public trust,” he added.
“With this new guidance, we take a major and important step forward to ensure effective policing by federal law enforcement officials and state and local law enforcement participating in federal task forces throughout the nation,” added Holder, who will step down in the next few weeks after five years in the post.
A Justice Department spokesman said the revamped guidelines, the product of a five-year-long review, will be “one of the signature accomplishments” of Holder’s tenure.
Holder is to explain the new criteria via conference call to US police on Monday following a review of existing guidelines laid down during the administration of President George W. Bush in 2003.
The new standards will not apply to border control, in areas such as verification of identity or luggage checks in airports, which remains the responsibility of the US Department of Homeland Security.
The rules will apply to all police officers, whether working in federal or local law enforcement, during federal operations.
The guidelines do not apply to other federal employees such as security forces including the military and intelligence services, or diplomats.
The new racial profiling policy “significantly enhances protections of civil rights” of Americans above and beyond what is required under the US Constitution, Holder said.
Identity checks conducted in a “routine” or “spontaneous” manner based on race, gender or religion will be forbidden, unless individuals concerned are suspected of engaging in a criminal act, a threat to national security or breach of intelligence.
Holder said the new policy would bring “enhanced training, oversight, and accountability to federal law enforcement across the country, so that isolated acts of discrimination do not tarnish the exemplary work that’s performed by the overwhelming majority of America’s hard-working law enforcement officials each and every day.”
The rash of US police killings of blacks in recent months has already led to the opening of several investigations, with Holder already ruling last week that police in Cleveland were guilty of a pattern of “using excessive force.”