NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Ending Persecution Of Police

February 5, 2001

Critics hope new Attorney General John Ashcroft will reverse the Clinton Justice Department's war on the police in the name of fighting racial discrimination. For the past seven years, they argue, the department's Civil Rights Division has saddled America's police departments with federal monitors on the ground that they discriminate against minorities.

But many of these suits are flawed, say experts:

  • Last May, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Justice Department to pay Torrance, California, $1.7 million in attorneys' fees for a police bias suit the trial court called "frivolous and unreasonable."
  • The alleged wrongdoing was screening for reading and writing at the ninth grade level in hiring exams, which Justice argued had a disparate impact on minorities and served no legitimate job purpose.
  • While the first charge is true (due to minorities' lagging educational performance), the court recognized analytic skills were essential to policing.
  • Yet Justice continued to threaten police departments with litigation unless they replaced traditional tests with federally approved ones.

The Department's second line of attack charged police departments with offenses ranging from racial profiling to brutality.

  • Pittsburgh signed a consent decree accepting federal monitoring (at a cost of $4 million to $5 million yearly) because of brutality suits -- but since then the 13 cases resolved have all cleared police.
  • Justice sued Columbus, Ohio, police for racial profiling based on studies of traffic stops, but excluded 30 percent of all stops because drivers lived in white suburbs, making the sample disproportionately minority.
  • Charges against New York City police are equally spurious, since NYPD actually stops minorities at a rate lower than the racial distribution of crime would suggest: in 1998, blacks were 62 percent of assailants identified by victims and 52 percent of all stop-and-frisk subjects.

Source: Heather MacDonald (Manhattan Institute), "Stop Persecuting the Police," Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2001.


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