The FBI touts civil rights enforcement as a top priority, but the number of investigations into such cases — from hate crimes to rogue police officers — has fallen sharply, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Pressed by the Bush administration to beef up counterterrorism ranks, the FBI has pulled agents off civil rights and slashed the number of criminal investigations conducted nationwide. The bureau has tacitly adopted more-stringent standards governing which cases to open. That has contributed to two-thirds fewer investigations targeting abusive police officers, cross-burners, and other purveyors of hate from 2001 to 2005.
The downward trend began in 1999 and accelerated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Civil rights experts — and even one of the Justice Department’s top civil rights lawyers — are troubled by the trend. They say hate-crime enforcement is too important to ignore, and there is a deterrent effect to federal review of police misconduct that is being muted. The Post-Intelligencer found a major drop in police-abuse cases handled by the FBI — down 66 percent from 2000 to 2005 nationwide, although figures for 2006 indicate a rebound in such investigations. Federal authorities are investigating increasingly fewer hate crimes each year, with cases handled by the FBI plunging by 60 percent.. Two former FBI officials said the bureau cut back on civil rights investigations because the Justice Department prosecuted fewer than 10 percent of the cases the bureau opened.