America to finally get new racial profiling guidelines

As part of the President’s executive actions to address issues of racial tension in the nation, today we are being treated to new federal guidelines on racial profiling. (Or maybe it’s a byproduct of his bout of acid reflux disease.) Liz Shield at PJ media has the details.

Today, the Obama administration will reveal new updates to its guidelines on racial profiling. Politico explains the new guidelines will tighten “limits on the practice but still allow federal law enforcement agencies to employ it at airports and along the border.”

The new policy will make some additions to the 2003 guidelines instituted by the Bush administration. The Bush guidelines applied only to race, but the updated Obama administration guidelines will also ban “profiling on the basis of religion, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identification.”

The guidelines come on the heels of racial unrest across the country following grand jury verdicts not to indict police officers in the killing of two African American men. It’s not clear how the addition of the new profiling guidelines would have changed either situation.

This has been a work in progress for five years, but Holder is explaining that it’s one of the last big ticket items he wants to check off on his bucket list before leaving the cabinet. And, of course, he’s now framing it in terms of both Ferguson and the Eric Garner case. The new guidelines, as noted above, will make exceptions which allow for so called racial profiling at airport security and along the border. You might think that this makes perfect sense, and it does. But how about other places, such as New York City which Holder himself highlights in his comments? Is the practice harmful or disgraceful there?

This is one of those areas where common sense is overwhelmingly trumped by politics in both government and in the coverage of the subject in narrative journalism outlets. I’ve spoken to more than a few cops in New York on the topic (including a couple of relatives, just for full disclosure) and the message is pretty consistent. It’s not always a matter of race so much as location, but particularly in New York City the two are often impossible to split apart. But the short version of the police line of thinking on this is that you do the “hard policing” (as it has often been referred to on CNN) in the places where the crime is. And where is that?

Take a look at this map from the city of New York’s crime map site. Just for one example of many, this one shows the city, broken down by police precincts, and coded by the number of Felony Assaults recorded in each region in any given month. The areas which are not shaded in have rates of less than 0.1175 instances per 1,000 residents. The areas shaded dark red have rates ranging from 0.6218 per thousand (5.3 times higher) to 2.500 per thousand (21.3 times higher.)


For reference, you can locate the upper east side and west side of midtown Manhattan near the center, mostly unshaded. There are two large areas shaded deep red, one to the north of there and one well to the south in Brooklyn. The one to the north is the set of precincts which cover Harlem, Mott Haven and Wards Island. The Brooklyn cluster is composed of the precincts responsible for Bedford-Stuy, Brownsville, (also known as The Murder Capital of New York) and Cypress Hills in East New York.

You do the math. If you have to allocate resources in law enforcement to target where the crime is actually happening, where would you be policing hard? And if you follow that map, how do you do that without somebody thinking that you are racially profiling? The police are being put in an untenable position here which does not reflect the reality of the job.

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