Thursday, April 26, 2007

FBI Civil Rights Investigations Down

This morning's P-I has a long report looking at FBI investigations of civil rights cases this decade. The numbers are bad: the number of cases opened is down about two-thirds. There are fewer agents dedicated to civil rights, apparently because of the agency's greater emphasis on terrorism investigations. Paul Shukovsky, Tracy Johnson & Daniel Lathrop, FBI opening far fewer civil rights inquiries, Seattle P-I, April 25, 2007. (The date on the web page is April 25 because it was posted last night. It really is this morning's top story.)

"Civil rights" cases include police misconduct and hate crimes. Both categories are down.

Two former FBI officials said [FBI Assistant Director Chip] Burrus cut back on civil rights investigations because the Justice Department prosecuted less than 10 percent of the cases the bureau opened.

"A lot of us felt like they were causing us to spin our wheels on civil rights cases," the retired official said. "We understood the deterrent value of opening (police-abuse) cases and the calming impact on the community."
The reporters describe one local (Buckley, WA) police misconduct case the FBI declined to pursue, but note that the nationwide trend of decreased investigations is less noticeable here than in parts of the country where federal civil rights prosecutions have been more common.

Federal investigations are only part of the picture. For instance, here in King County, the local prosecutors have filed more than 120 malicious harassment cases in the last 10 years. So maybe the FBI's declining numbers are in part because local law enforcement is doing a better job. (No one suggests that hate crimes have gone away. Thousands are reported each year. A study by DOJ estimated that there 200,000 a year.)

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