DOJ to spend $4.75M studying race

The Justice Department will spend $4.75 million to create a center to collect racial data on police stops, searches and arrests in an effort to shine a light on a perceived bias against minorities.

The initiative, announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, springs directly from the 2012 killing of teenager Trayvon Martin, which sparked a national debate about racial issues in the criminal justice system. The incident prompted President Obama to direct the agency last July to study ways to relax tensions between minorities and the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

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In a video statement issued Monday afternoon, Holder pointed to a recent study finding that roughly half of all black men in the United States are arrested at least once by age 23. The same study found that black men were six times more likely to be arrested than white men in 2012.

“This overrepresentation of young men of color in our criminal justice system is a problem we must confront — not only as an issue of individual responsibility but also as one of fundamental fairness, and as an issue of effective law enforcement,” Holder said.

“We know — from research and from experience — that when people are treated fairly by police and other justice system agencies they are more likely to accept decisions by the authorities and obey the law in the future, even when they are penalized by criminal sanctions,” he continued.

The new National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice will be tasked with analyzing data on stops and searches, arrests and case outcomes.

The project will be funded through a grant program administered by the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, the COPS Office, the Civil Rights Division, the Office on Violence Against Women and the Community Relations Service.

The initiative will also involve the implementation of strategies to curb bias at five initial pilot sites.

“Of course, to be successful in reducing both the experience and the perception of bias, we must have verifiable data about the problem,” Holder said.

The effort is the latest in a series of agency actions Holder says will promote fairness in the criminal justice system. The agency has also implemented new charging policies for certain drug cases to keep some offenders from facing mandatory minimum sentences, and is working on regulations designed to tamp down on racial profiling.