WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Thursday issued new guidance emphasizing that investigations should be free of bias based on race, gender, or persons with disabilities. Anti-profiling rules have also been extended to thousands more people working in the justice system.
The guidelines obtained by The Associated Press are the first updates in almost a decade and now cover thousands more people than before, including prosecutors, attorneys, analysts and contractors. They have previously applied to law enforcement agents such as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as local officials who work with them on task forces.
Released on the third anniversary of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, the update also calls for more extensive data-gathering efforts designed to ensure guidance is being followed.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility to lead by example,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the changes are a step forward, but the guidelines don’t fully ban bias in national security activities, including areas where the most damage has been done, such as watch lists and pressure to become an informant.
“We welcome the improvements made by the Justice Department, but are disappointed that after so much work and community calls for change, this policy does not result in a full and effective ban on discrimination by federal agencies,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the Department of Justice Department of Justice ACLU’s National Security Project, in a statement.
The Justice Department’s efforts are aimed at rooting out biased practices that are condemned as unfair and likely to inspire suspicion and violate civil liberties. The guidelines aim to eliminate bias based on the use of race, ethnicity, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and now disability.
“Fair and impartial law enforcement practices are intelligent and effective law enforcement practices,” the guidelines state.
However, details of these characteristics may be used when investigators are provided with such information along with additional, detailed context showing that it is reliable and related to a specific incident or investigation.
For example, based on an indication of a possible assault, investigators could not single out individuals of a particular race or creed without providing a date, time, or a full description of a suspect.
Training on the new guidelines must begin within a year for those newly covered by the guidelines and for local law enforcement agencies tasked with working with federal agencies on task forces.
To ensure the rules are being followed, law enforcement must begin investigating complaints of bias within six months. They must also create data-driven research projects to track how the policies are being implemented and report on that research within a year.