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BJS Director Sacked For Telling Truth About Racial Profiling

Lawrence A. Greenfield was the director of the Justice Departments Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a low-profile government agency that employs some 50 people for the task of preparing reports on statistical analysis of criminal justice-related issues such as crime patterns, police tactics, drug use and prison populations. BJS is located in a separate building from the Justice Department and has traditionally been largely independent of political influence. He was appointed to that post by President Bush in 2001 following 19 years of high marks as a statistician and administrator at BJS. However, in August 2005, he was sacked by White House officials after he refused to alter a Congressionally-mandated report on racial profiling to soft peddle the disparate treatment of black and Hispanic drivers stopped by police.

The report was conducted in 2002 and based on interviews with 80,000 drivers. It showed that, while white, Hispanic and black drivers are stopped at about the same rate--9%, black and Hispanic drivers were much more likely to be searched or be subjected to a police use of force than white drivers. The news release on the report prepared under Greenfield mentioned the disparate treatment. It was reviewed by then acting assistant attorney general Tracy A. Henke, who signed marginal notes on those findings stating: Do we need this? and Make the changes. Greenfield refused to delete the findings and change the release to read only that white, Hispanic and black drivers were stopped at about the same rate on the grounds that it would render the release incomplete and misleading.
Henke was later nominated by President Bush for a senior position at the Department of Homeland Security. She claims not to remember the incident. Greenfield was first summoned to the third-ranking Justice Department officials office and questioned on his handling of the release, then called to the White House personnel office and told to resign because he was being replaced.

Greenfeld was six months from retirement with full benefits. Therefore, he exercised his right as a senior executive to move to a less senior position. He will probably be placed in the Bureau of Prisons. Joseph M. Bessette, a former BJS official, was offered the directorate. He refused and praised Greenfields work.

Ive never met a finer public servant, and I think the agency has been taken to new heights by Larry, said Bessette.

The report was published on the internet without a press release. This virtually ensures that it will be buried among the many less-important published government reports.

Meanwhile, the attempts by the Bush administration to control the politically-sensitive content of BJS reports is causing anxiety among BJS employees. Some degree of tension between statisticians and policy makers is normal, but, according to a senior BJS statistician, in this administration, those tensions have been greater, and the struggles have been harder.

Larry wanted to ensure that the integrity of the data was not compromised, and thats whats causing a lot of anxiety. Weve seen a desire for more control over BJS from the powers that be, and thats what seemed to get Larry in trouble, said another long-time BJS statistician.

Source: New York Times.

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