Holder’s DOJ Targets ‘Unconscious Bias’ In Law Enforcement

“Biased policing is not primarily about the ill-intentioned officer but rather the officer who engages in discriminatory practices subconsciously."

In a move Attorney General Eric Holder called a “major and important step forward to ensure effective policing,” the Obama administration issued its new strengthened guidelines Monday banning federal law enforcement from profiling on the basis of national origin, religion, and other characteristics. The strengthened anti-profiling policy is yet another part of the Department of Justice’s attempt to root out what it calls the “unconscious bias” of law enforcement officers.

Though the guidelines apply specifically to federal agencies within the DOJ (the FBI, DEA, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), Holder said he hopes the federal policies will impact local police departments. The new policy will require widespread re-education and even more thorough collection of data for the DOJ’s review.  

As Paul Sperry explains in an article for the New York Post, Holder’s DOJ has long been focused on eliminating what it claims is the inevitable “unconscious" or "implicit" bias of law enforcement across the country. With the recent controversy surrounding the Eric Garner case, Sperry writes, the NYPD will now have to undergo the same kind of federal scrutiny and mandated re-education as implemented by Holder in several other cities already—including Seattle, New Orleans, and St. Louis—all part of the DOJ’s “unprecedented shift from prosecuting intentional discrimination to investigating unconscious or ‘implicit’ bias”:

In the past five years, Holder has more than doubled the number of police department probes compared with the previous five years, opening more than 20 investigations and pressuring 15 consent orders to stop “biased policing” and other alleged violations.

What’s striking about these federally mandated orders is the lack of evidence investigators found to show cops stopped and arrested black people simply because of bias. They assumed, but couldn’t prove, they targeted blacks due to an automatic and unfair association between them and crime and not because they actually committed crimes.

Sperry offers a few examples of the non-factual bases and harmful impacts of such an approach, including what happened when the feds took their “de-biasing” program to Seattle:

Take the Seattle Police Department, which Justice alleged engaged in a “pattern and practice” of discrimination toward blacks.

The feds based their findings largely on “implicit bias,” arguing cops “subconsciously” discriminated by making “disproportionate stops of non-whites.”

“Biased policing,” Justice explained in its findings letter to the Seattle PD, “is not primarily about the ill-intentioned officer but rather the officer who engages in discriminatory practices subconsciously,” adding that even a well-meaning cop can violate the civil rights of black suspects by operating “on implicit biases that impact that officer’s behavior or perceptions.”

The department said “many in the community perceive that pedestrian stops are overused and target minorities.” It admits it couldn’t verify the accuracy of the complaints and never bothered to get the cops’ side of the story.

In a 2012 consent decree, Holder ordered Seattle to soften its use-of-force rules and train brass and rank and file alike in “bias-free” policing that recognizes and eliminates “implicit bias,” while disciplining any conduct tied to it.

The rules, which fully went into effect this year, have led to “de-policing.”

The result? Crime is up in the Emerald City.

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