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Home About Us What We Investigate Civil Rights Civil Rights Program Overview

Civil Rights Program Overview

Civil Rights Program Overview

Civil Rights Program Overview

The FBI opens hundreds of civil rights cases each year, and it’s a responsibility the Bureau takes very seriously. The Civil Rights program is comprised of the following subprograms: hate crimes, color of law violations, human trafficking, and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act violations.

Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s Civil Rights program. Because of the devastating impact these types of heinous acts can have on families and communities, the Bureau investigates hundreds of these cases every year and works to detect and deter further incidents through law enforcement training, public outreach, and partnerships with a myriad of community groups.

Traditionally, FBI investigations of hate crimes were limited to crimes in which the perpetrators acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin. In addition, investigations were restricted to those wherein the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity. With the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, the Bureau became authorized to investigate these crimes without this prohibition. This landmark legislation also expanded the role of the FBI to allow for the investigation of hate crimes committed against those based on biases of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender.

Color of law violations are defined as actions taken by any person using the authority given to him or her by a local, state, tribal, or federal government agency to willfully deprive someone of a right, privilege, or immunity secured or protected by the Constitution of the United States. Examples of color of law matters involve allegations of misconduct by federal law enforcement officers, judges, attorneys, probation officers, and, in one instance, a governor, but most cases are initiated based on allegations of excessive force or sexual assault by law enforcement or correctional officers. Officers face danger every day with courage—and the vast majority serve their communities with honor and integrity—but the authority bestowed upon them by the people is a tremendous responsibility that must not be abused. The FBI routinely monitors situations in which an officer’s conduct is alleged to have been in excess of the permissible use of force, and in some instances, provide support to police departments in an effort to ensure a thorough investigation. In other instances, the FBI will conduct its own investigation when an officer’s actions may have violated a person’s civil rights.

The FBI takes all color of law allegations seriously, as the abuse of authority by public officials undermines the foundation of our democracy.

Human trafficking, believed to be the third-largest criminal activity in the world, is a form of human slavery which must be addressed at the interagency level. Human trafficking includes forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sex trafficking. It involves both U.S. citizens and foreigners alike, and has no demographic restrictions. The FBI works human trafficking cases under both its Civil Rights program and its Violent Crimes Against Children program. The majority of human trafficking victims in our cases are U.S. citizens, and we take a victim-centered approach in investigating such cases, which means that ensuring the needs of the victims take precedence over all other considerations.

FACE Act violations are crimes committed against those who seek to obtain or provide reproductive health care services—include threatening phone calls and mail, property damage, blockades, assaults, and murders.

The use of intelligence analysis plays an important role in the FBI’s Civil Rights program. The Bureau has established risk indicators for each subprogram to help field office agents and analysts better proactively identify, assess, and ultimately address the civil rights threats within their regions. Because civil rights crimes often overlap with other criminal activity, analysts work with their counterparts in other investigative programs and agencies to build a comprehensive overview of emerging trends, patterns, and overall threats throughout the U.S. Intelligence is disseminated to federal, state, local, and tribal partners to alert them to possible problems as they arise.

Collaboration plays a vital role in effectively engaging civil rights issues throughout the country. Many civil rights investigations are enhanced by joint efforts with law enforcement partners. Nationwide, the FBI participates in more than 200 task forces and/or working groups focused on major civil rights threats. The FBI also works closely with community and civic organizations at the local and national levels.