Justice Department Demoted Official Who Fought Suppression of Racial Profiling Study

Published Jul 15, 2005

In August 2005, the Department of Justice demoted an official who fought efforts to suppress an agency study which found evidence of racial profiling by police officers. Lawrence A. Greenfeld, head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, refused to carry out an order from senior Justice Department officials that he downplay the study's conclusions in a news release. Three months after his clash with top Justice Department officials over the issue, Mr. Greenfeld was removed from his position. The incident illustrates the degree to which the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency traditionally noted for its independence, faces increasing political interference by the Bush administration.

The Justice Department's study of racial profiling was based on interviews with 80,000 people in 2002. The report found that white, black, and Hispanic drivers were equally likely to be pulled over by police during the year. However, the study also found that white drivers were less likely to have their vehicles searched when they were stopped. Black and Hispanic drivers were searched 10.2 percent and 11.4 percent of the time respectively. By contrast, white drivers' vehicles were searched only 3.5 percent of the time.¹

The Bureau of Justice Statistics drafted a public statement to accompany the study's release in April 2005. Top Justice Department officials, however, requested that the bureau remove references to the divergent vehicle search rates for different ethnic groups. The New York Times reported that a "fierce dispute" transpired after Mr. Greenfeld refused then-acting assistant attorney Tracy A. Henke's order that he change the proposed press release. The department eventually released the report on its website without a public statement.²

The quiet publication of the study prompted congressional leaders to charge the Justice Department with "effectively burying the findings. . . that would add grist to the debate over using racial and ethnic data in law enforcement and terrorism investigations."³  The subsequent demotion of Mr. Greenfeld added fuel to the charge that the White House was limiting the independence of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) summarized the feelings of many observers when he said: "It is totally unacceptable for the Justice Department to politicize statistical release and demote individuals merely because they were seeking to provide accurate summaries of statistical information regarding racial profiling."

1. Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Contacts between Police and the Public," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, April 2005, accessed December 5, 2006.
2. Eric Lichtblau, "Profiling Report Leads to a Demotion," New York Times, 24 August 2005, accessed 12 October 2006.
3. Ibid.