The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee called for a congressional investigation yesterday into allegations that a Justice Department official is being demoted after attempting to publicize findings that police treated Hispanic and black drivers more aggressively than whites during traffic stops.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said he was preparing a request for an "independent review" by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which will be asked to examine the personnel issues and the formulation of the study itself.
"It is totally unacceptable for the Justice Department to politicize statistical releases and demote individuals merely because they were seeking to provide accurate summaries of statistical information regarding racial profiling," Conyers said.
Conyers's demand came after a report in the New York Times focusing on Lawrence A. Greenfeld, who heads the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a small office staffed primarily with statisticians who conduct studies and issue reports on law enforcement issues.
Quoting unidentified officials and documents, the report said Greenfeld was ordered to delete references to racial disparities in a news release prepared to announce a study on the treatment of different ethnic groups during police traffic stops.
The survey of 80,000 people, which was eventually issued in April without a news release, found that minority drivers were three times as likely to have their vehicles searched during traffic stops as white drivers.
Greenfeld fought the order and was eventually called to the White House and urged to resign six months before he was eligible for full pension benefits, but Greenfeld invoked personnel rules to force an agreement to place him in a different job, the Times said. Greenfeld did not return a telephone message left yesterday.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse declined to comment on the personnel status of Greenfeld, who is still acting as head of the statistics bureau.
But Roehrkasse denied that any political pressure was applied in the debate over the racial profiling survey, and said that a majority of studies from the statistics bureau are released without news releases.
"There was no effort to suppress any information," Roehrkasse said. "The report went out in its entirety and is fully available to anyone who wants to read it."
Greenfeld, who was appointed in 2001 by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate in 2002, has told his staff that he is leaving, officials said.
Officials said yesterday that the statistics office prides itself on its independence from political pressure. The program is physically separate from the department's central building on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington.