Profiling wordsmithing

liquid paper

Fixing the facts

They're at it again. Just weeks after a White House advisor was found out editing away inconvenient scientific findings about global warming, the White House has exacted revenge on a respected statistician for wanting to reveal inconvenient findings about racial profiling by police.

Lawrence Greenfeld
Lawrence Greenfeld, now former head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics

The Bureau of Justice Statistics is a small (50-person) unit of the vast bureaucracy in the Justice Department devoted to crunching numbers to compile reports on things like crime rates, drug use, and so on — numbers widely cited by policy makers, law enforcement, social scientists, news media, and others. But four months ago, the head of the agency — Lawrence Greenfeld, named by President Bush in 2001 — ran afoul of the Bush administration penchant for wishing-away facts that are politically inconvenient.

police stops
Chart 1. Police stops, by race. About the same.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics completed a major, Congressionally-mandated study of racial profiling by police. The good news is that they found no statistically significant differences among the proportions of blacks, whites, and hispanics stopped by police (chart 1). Police do not apparently target any racial group when making stops.

Chart 2. Searches after police stops, by race
use of force
Chart 3. Use of force after police stops, by race

The bad news emerged when they looked at what happens after the stop. They found disproportionate numbers of blacks and hispanics were subjected to searches and the use of force after they had been stopped (charts 2 and 3).

blotting out text

Political supervisors insisted that references to the racial disparities had to be deleted from Greenfeld's press release announcing findings of the study. Greenfeld insisted that deleting such important findings would be misleading and refused to sanitize the press release. At that point, Greenfeld's supervisors deep-sixed the press release entirely, ensuring that the report would go largely unnoticed.

Then, the White House informed Greenfeld that he was being replaced as head of the agency and was urged to resign, six months before he was scheduled to retire with full pension benefits. Greenfeld invoked his right as a senior executive to be assigned a lesser post and seek another job, probably with the Bureau of Prisons.

Every administration wants to see itself portrayed in the most favorable light and wants to make the strongest case possible for its policies. But the Bushies show an astonishing lack of respect for facts. They want no dissenting voice to be heard. Their willingness to shade the truth and to cherry-pick facts goes far beyond the pale. If a whole administration can be said to suffer from retarded moral development, this one can. As the saying goes, A fish rots from the head.

Oh yeah! The supervisor? Got a promotion. Naturally.