10. “Racial profiling,” once a political buzzword and a favorite topic of the media, disappeared from the headlines following the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. The FOP has condemned the practice and asserted that it is not the policy of any U.S. law enforcement agency to base enforcement decisions solely on race. However, legislation like H.R. 3618/S. 1670, the “End Racial Profiling Act,” continues to be introduced in Congress. How do you define “racial profiling”? Do you believe that Federal legislation is necessary to address this issue and if so, what would the legislation do and how would affect law enforcement activity at the State and local level?
Obama: I will continue to fight to build a more fair and equitable criminal justice system. I have directed my staff to evaluate the referenced legislation. The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing its guidance regarding the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies. Their conclusions will help guide any future action by my administration in this area.
Romney: Like the Fraternal Order of Police, I oppose racial profiling as a policy or decision-making tool in law enforcement matters. I believe that law enforcement decisions should be made based upon the individual facts and circumstances of the matter under investigation. In such circumstances, race or ethnicity may become relevant where credible information has come to light regarding a possible perpetrator, victim, organization, or scheme. Generic racial profiling that is disconnected from the facts and circumstances of an investigation, however, has no place in our criminal justice system. I believe that states, localities, the federal government, and organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police have largely expressed the same view and have taken steps to prevent racial profiling. I believe there is no need for federal legislation on this score.
11. Would your Administration impose race-collection criteria on Federal law enforcement officers during enforcement actions?
Obama: I believe that collecting appropriate data and developing procedures for responding to complaints is an important step to understand and address any issue of racial profiling.
Romney: It is my understanding that routine demographic information and data are already collected and retained with regard to federal law enforcement actions. Beyond such information, I see no reason why further non-case related information would need to be gathered.
12. In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law without any support from the law enforcement community. Did you support this legislation? Why is such a law necessary and how do you believe such crimes should be defined? Would you consider making the murder of a law enforcement officer a crime of hate?
Obama: I signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which allowed us to strengthen protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, the place of your birth, and added federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Prosecutors now have new tools to work with states and, in their discretion, to prosecute to the fullest those who would perpetrate such crimes.
From the time that the Shepard-Byrd Act became law, the Justice Department has been working to promote safer and more tolerant communities by implementing and enforcing the new law. The Justice Department’s implementation efforts have included holding training conferences to bring together federal, state, and local law enforcement with community to build collaboration for its enforcement. I hope to work with you to continue this important work.
My Administration is committed to stopping senseless tragedies and keeping our police safe. Federal law already provides for harsher penalties when federal crimes of violence are committed against law enforcement officers. We will continue to keep cops on the street and collaborate with law enforcement agencies to reduce injuries and deaths in the line of duty, including through the new Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement and Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability (VALOR) initiative.
Romney: There is no place in civil society for assaults on individuals based upon the color of their skin, their religion, place of origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. My administration will vigorously investigate and prosecute criminals who violate federal law by targeting victims in such a manner.
Regarding the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, I did not take a position on this particular piece of legislation. I note that prior to enactment of the Act, federal law already provided robust sentencing enhancements for federal crimes targeted at an individuals based upon that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, disability, national origin or sexual orientation, and I support such laws providing such added penalties. Additionally, federal criminal statutes also already existed to punish major civil rights violations and race-based assaults upon churches and voting rights. Accordingly, there was a significant debate surrounding the 2009 Act as to the need for many of its provisions.
As for assaults targeting law enforcement officers and their families, my administration would have a zero tolerance policy. Current federal law provides penalties, up to and including the death penalty, for crimes targeting federal law enforcement officers and their families. The federal sentencing guidelines provide further enhancements for crimes targeting official victims, including law enforcement officers, in the course of federal crimes. As president, I would ensure vigorous enforcement of these provisions and the creation of new penalties, as needed, to punish and deter crimes against officers. Additionally, much as I did as Governor of Massachusetts, I would support death penalty reforms at both the state and federal level, as appropriate, to ensure the availability of capital punishment where an officer has been murdered.