NPR logo Obama Administration Unveils New Limits On Racial Profiling

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Obama Administration Unveils New Limits On Racial Profiling

The Obama administration released new guidelines today to ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement officers. The guidelines replace ones adopted by the Bush administration in 2003.

The new rules prohibit profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion or sexual orientation and apply to federal officers, such as the FBI and Secret Service and any local law enforcement that work with them on task forces.

The guidelines, however, do not apply to screeners at airports or border check points.

Attorney General Eric Holder ordered the review in 2009 and released the new rules in the wake of two high-profile deaths involving police: an unarmed black 18-year-old who was shot in Ferguson in August and a New York City man who had been held in a chokehold earlier in the summer.

"As Attorney General, I have repeatedly made clear that profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective," Holder said in a statement. "Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we've seen at the local level, and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process, it's imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices."

According to the memo, federal agents can take race or other factors into consideration only if a suspect they are looking for is known to belong to one of those categories. But officers cannot blanket certain groups looking for possible criminal behavior.

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In one example, the memo says if an officer notices that most cars on a particular road are driving above the speed limit, he or she may not use one of the banned characteristics to choose a car to pull over.

But if the officer receives a bulletin to be on the look out for a "man of a particular race and particular hair color in his 30s driving a blue automobile," the officer may pull people over based on those criteria.

The guidelines do not directly impact local law enforcement, which has the vast majority of contacts with the public. But department officials say they hope local police eventually will fall in line with the federal standards.