The Drug Enforcement Administration has been detaining suspected drug traffickers at the nation’s airports, but curiously has not been documenting the ethnicities of those questioned, causing the inspector general of the Justice Department to blast the program.
The problem is simple: The Justice Department wants to be able to track whether there is a practice of racial profiling in the DEA’s efforts. Without the data, no one knows.
The inspector general’s findings come as the Justice Department turns up its investigations of state and local law-enforcement departments for potential civil-rights abuses on the heels of police killings of unarmed Black men in Ferguson, New York, Ohio and other places across the country.
The program, called “cold consent,” permits DEA agents at airports and other mass transit facilities to conduct interviews and searches of individuals with that person’s consent. However, the DEA doesn’t track demographic data on stops that fail to turn up drugs and money or result in arrests. And that’s the inspector general’s concern.
“Without this information, the DEA cannot assess the impartiality with which cold consent encounters and searches are conducted,” the inspector general’s report said. “We believe collecting such data would enhance oversight of DEA’s interdiction activities and assist the DEA in responding to allegations that its special agents or task force officers inappropriately considered race as a basis for encounters.”
Additionally, the Justice Department’s review found that only 29 percent of its task force members and 47 percent of supervisors had attended training, and most agents were unaware of reporting requirements that could help determine whether officers use the method improperly.
All this came about when a Black Pentagon attorney was detained at an airport while traveling on government business. That unidentified person filed a complaint, saying she faced humiliating and aggressive questioning.
A DEA spokesman said in a letter that the agency concurs with the IG reforms but added that it cannot legally force an individual to provide demographic information without an arrest.
“It would not be in DEA’s best interest to use its best guesstimate in determining the race during an encounter, which may not result in an accurate statistic,” the letter said.