Bureau of Justice Statistics Director Demoted
Lawrence Greenfeld was appointed by G.W. Bush as Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, in 2001. The Bureau, where Greenfeld had worked for some 23 years, is a small agency within the large Justice Department, in charge of producing statistical reports on many topics related to crime, the penal system, and the justice system.
In late August 2005, after he had resisted earlier, politically motivated attempts to manipulate the content of a press release concerning a report he was about to publish, Greenfeld was apparently demoted in retaliation.
The report, "Contacts between Police and the Public: Findings from the 2002 National Survey", was a "survey of 80,000 people, which was eventually issued in April 2005 without a news release, found that minority drivers were three times as likely to have their vehicles searched during traffic stops as white drivers".
According to the report by Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times,
In April , as the report was being completed, Mr. Greenfeld's office drafted a news release to announce the findings and submitted it for review to the office of Tracy A. Henke, who was then the acting assistant attorney general who oversaw the statistics branch.
The planned announcement noted that the rate at which whites, blacks and Hispanics were stopped was "about the same," and that finding was left intact by Ms. Henke's office, according to a copy of the draft obtained by The New York Times.
But the references in the draft to higher rates of searches and use of force for blacks and Hispanics were crossed out by hand, with a notation in the margin that read, "Do we need this?" A note affixed to the edited draft, which the officials said was written by Ms. Henke, read "Make the changes," and it was signed "Tracy." That led to a fierce dispute after Mr. Greenfeld refused to delete the references[, "arguing to his supervisors that the omissions would make the public announcement incomplete and misleading"], officials said.
Henke later denied to Lichtblau any memory of the incident. A Justice Department spokesman denied that there had been any political pressure, noting that the report was published on the Bureau's website without alteration, albeit without the accompanying press release.
As reported by Lichtblau:
Amid the debate over the traffic stop study, Mr. Greenfeld was called to the office of Robert D. McCallum Jr., then the third-ranking Justice Department official, and questioned about his handling of the matter, people involved in the episode said. Some weeks later [i.e., in the summer of 2005], he was called to the White House, where personnel officials told him he was being replaced as director and was urged to resign, six months before he was scheduled to retire with full pension benefits, the officials said.
After Mr. Greenfeld invoked his right as a former senior executive to move to a lesser position, the administration agreed to allow him to seek another job, and he is likely to be detailed to the Bureau of Prisons, the officials said.
Responding to the situation, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. wrote about the incident in his blog on 25 August 2005, highlighting the "racial profiling" angle of the suppressed statistic in the announcement. The following day, a press release from Conyer's office announced that the congressman was requesting that the Government Accountability Office investigate the incident that led to Greenfeld's demotion.
Shortly thereafter, the American Civil Liberties Union, concerned about what it saw as a civil-rights issue in the attempt to suppress publicity concerning the contentious report of racial disparities in arrests, issued a press release on 30 August 2005 calling on congress to investigate the Greenfeld demotion incident and to enact legislation that would end the racial disparities. Their request took the form of a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, signed by representatives from 10 civil-rights organizations, expressing concern at "the reported efforts of political appointees in the Department to suppress or downplay these important findings", and pointing out that "the results of this study indicate a pressing need for the Administration to do more to address the persistent problem of racial profiling in America."
Writing in The Weekly Standard, Joseph Bessette summarized the incident this way:
A review of the facts compels four conclusions. [bullets added]
- First, the administration did not try to suppress or manipulate data, though it did seek to deny publicity to uncomfortable facts.
- Second, its ham-handedness backfired by attracting infinitely more attention to the sensitive racial profiling data than would otherwise have been the case.
- Third, it cashiered Greenfeld for doing his job in a responsible and, indeed, exemplary way.
- Finally, not content simply with firing a dedicated public servant, it maligned him and his agency in a way that was deeply unjust, that undermined morale at a model federal agency, and that jeopardized its good work and its reputation within the criminal justice community.
Bassette goes on to document how "It didn't take long for the administration to defend itself by attacking its own appointee and his agency," concluding that "In the current episode, main Justice overreached, generating an unnecessary public relations flap that ill-served the president. In the process, it wounded and weakened an outstanding public agency--one critical in the long run to the nation's battle against crime--and it mistreated a fine public servant."
As of this writing (25 October 2005), the situation is unclear. Lawrence Greenfled is still listed on at least one page of the Bureau's website as its Director, and no additional news stories seem to have appeared to follow-up on earlier reports of the incident.
- ^ White House, "Presidential Nomination: Lawrence Albert Greenfeld, whitehouse.gov, undated.
- ^ "Contacts between Police and the Public: Findings from the 2002 National Survey", Bureau of Justice Statistics, 8 April 2005.
- ^ Dan Eggen, "Official in Racial Profiling Study Demoted: Justice Department Denies Political Pressure; Lawmaker Demands Investigation", Washington Post, 25 August 2005.
- ^ Eric Lichtblau, "Profiling Report Leads to a Demotion', New York Times, 24 August 2005.
- ^ ibid.
- ^ John Conyers, Jr., "Justice Department Hits New Low -- And Gets Caught Red Handed", conyersblog.us, 25 August 2005.
- ^ John Conyers, Jr. press release, "Conyers calls for Investigation of DOJ Suppression of Racial Profiling Report", 26 August 2005.
- ^ ACLU press release, "ACLU Says Stealth Racial Profiling Report Shows Need for Federal Legislation", American Civil Liberties Union, 30 August 2005.
- ^ Joseph M. Bessette, "The Injustice Department: Why was Lawrence Greenfeld fired?", The Weekly Standard, 17 October 2005.
- ^ "About the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which states "Page last revised on July 15, 2005", i.e., two months before the appearance of the New York Times story; the page was visited on 25 Octover 2005 for this report.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics homepage.
- "Demotion of BJS Director Highlights Bush Administration's Attempt to Politicize Data on Profiling", Watching Justice, 29 August 2005.
- "Tracy A. Henke", SourceWatch, 13 October 2005.
- Brendan Coyne, "Groups Dismayed by Gov’t Reaction to Racial Profiling Study", The New Standard, 1 September 2005.
- Bob Herbert, "Truth-Telling on Race? Not in Bush's Fantasyland", The New York Times, 25 August 2005.