The Bush assministration demoted the head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics when he refused to hide the results of his department’s study on racial profiling.
The Bush administration is replacing the director of a small but critical branch of the Justice Department, months after he complained that senior political officials at the department were seeking to play down newly compiled data on the aggressive police treatment of black and Hispanic drivers.
The demotion of the official, Lawrence A. Greenfeld, whom President Bush named in 2001 to lead the Bureau of Justice Statistics, caps more than three years of simmering tensions over charges of political interference at the agency. And it has stirred anger and tumult among many Justice Department statisticians, who say their independence in analyzing important law enforcement data has been compromised.
Officials at the White House and the Justice Department said no political pressure had been exerted over the statistics branch. But they declined to discuss the job status of Mr. Greenfeld, who told his staff several weeks ago that he had been asked to move on after 23 years of generally high marks as a statistician and supervisor at the agency. Mr. Greenfeld, who was initially threatened with dismissal and the possible loss of some pension benefits, is expected to leave the agency soon for a lesser position at another agency.
The flashpoint in the tensions between Mr. Greenfeld and his political supervisors came four months ago, when statisticians at the agency were preparing to announce the results of a major study on traffic stops and racial profiling, which found disparities in how racial groups were treated once they were stopped by the police.
Political supervisors within the Office of Justice Programs ordered Mr. Greenfeld to delete certain references to the disparities from a news release that was drafted to announce the findings, according to more than a half-dozen Justice Department officials with knowledge of the situation.
Mr. Greenfeld refused to delete the racial references, arguing to his supervisors that the omissions would make the public announcement incomplete and misleading. Instead, the Justice Department opted not to issue a news release on the findings and posted the report online.
Congressional opponents of racial profiling, who have criticized what they see as an ambivalent stance on the issue by the Bush administration, said they were frustrated to learn that the Justice Department had completed the Congressionally mandated study without announcing its findings or briefing members of Congress on it. They accused the Justice Department of effectively burying the findings to play down new data that would add grist to the debate over using racial and ethnic data in law enforcement and terrorism investigations.
“My suspicions always go up if a report like this is just deep-sixed,” said Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, who is dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and plans to introduce legislation this fall that would ban the use of racial or ethnic police profiling.
Amid the debate over the traffic stop study, Mr. Greenfeld was called to the office of Robert D. McCallum Jr., then the third-ranking Justice Department official, and questioned about his handling of the matter, people involved in the episode said. Some weeks later, he was called to the White House, where personnel officials told him he was being replaced as director and was urged to resign, six months before he was scheduled to retire with full pension benefits, the officials said.
After Mr. Greenfeld invoked his right as a former senior executive to move to a lesser position, the administration agreed to allow him to seek another job, and he is likely to be detailed to the Bureau of Prisons, the officials said.