Letter to the Editor on Civil Rights Cases
|Washington, D.C. May 02, 2007|
Thursday's story, "FBI opening far fewer civil rights inquiries," misleads readers about the FBI's commitment to enforcing our nation's civil rights laws. The FBI continues to treat this important responsibility as a top investigative priority.
The FBI's current manpower commitment to civil rights enforcement is virtually identical to levels during fiscal year (FY) 2001, the period, except for three weeks, before the attacks of 9/11. At the same time, agents assigned civil rights matters are investigating 18 percent more cases than during the 2001 time period. Perhaps the most important measure, criminal indictments or other charges in civil rights cases, overall were 21 percent higher in fiscal year 2006 than in fiscal year 2001.
In the civil rights subprogram covering "color of law," or police abuse, ongoing investigations last year were up 23 percent over FY 2001 levels. Criminal charges were up nearly 24 percent for the same period. The fact that these kinds of civil rights violations are being investigated by fewer Agents overall, but with greater results, shows an increase in efficiency rather than a decrease in commitment. Increases in the number of pending cases suggest better quality investigations and a focus on those with the best potential for federal prosecution.
The FBI has adjusted its approach to allegations of police abuse. While every complaint is still reviewed, Agents look carefully for a potential violation of federal law, the criteria necessary to initiate a FBI investigation, with an eye toward prosecution. Agents also take into account the status or likelihood of state or local prosecution of the same allegation, so that valuable resources can be better directed to areas not being addressed. Finally, FBI field offices across the country are working more closely with state and local law enforcement to educate and train police managers, so that incidents of police abuse can be prevented from ever happening in the first place.
In the post-9/11 world, where preventing the next terrorist attack is the top priority, the FBI strives to effectively carry out its investigative mission by prioritizing criminal violations, allocating resources to achieve the greatest impact, and by increasing effectiveness. The measures I've cited show that while we may be opening fewer cases, allegations of police abuse get no less attention from the FBI. At the same time, we have become more effective by combining sensible investigative and management strategies with preventive efforts to better protect the civil rights and civil liberties guaranteed to all.
Assistant Director for Public Affairs
Federal Bureau of Investigation
(As printed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on May 1, 2007)