The US Justice Department has announced that it is rolling back a program created by the administration of former President Barack Obama to help reform police departments after controversial incidents such as police-involved fatal shootings.
Under the collaborative reform process, local law enforcement agencies were able to request assistance from the COPS office in order to make organizational and policy reforms that could improve trust between departments and the communities they serve.
Officials said Friday the initiative will shift its focus to helping local law enforcement fight violent crime. The department said the office will still offer information on “best practices”, but it will no longer provide the kind of lengthy investigations, town hall meetings and public audits it did in the past.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions heralded the decision as “a course correction to ensure that resources go to agencies that require assistance rather than expensive wide-ranging investigative assessments that go beyond the scope of technical assistance and support”.
In that background document, DOJ said that “over the past several years, Collaborative Reform evolved to include much broader-ranging assessments of law enforcement agencies, identifying criticisms of agency practices as a basis for the COPS office (Office of Community Oriented Policing Services) to recommend significant changes and monitor the adoption of those change”. The city voluntarily made a decision to work with federal officials several months after Castile’s shooting. The St. Louis County Police Department also underwent a review that included use of force issues after its community relationships were strained following the riots that broke out in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The collaborative reform initiative has provided such technical assistance to cities like Las Vegas, Memphis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and many others.
Kanya Bennett, ACLU’s legislative counsel, called it “truly appalling”.
A Justice department officials said the agency is willing to work with St. Anthony to transition to the new process and “fulfill its technical assistance needs”.
Sessions has said he aims to put the Justice Department on a more pro-police footing.
A document from the agency said the program’s recent focus on assessing law enforcement agencies had the “unintended outcome of a more adversarial relationship between DOJ and the participating law enforcement agencies”.
But Friday, Sessions’ DOJ said that, while it wanted to help local law enforcement agencies, it would do so at those agencies’ invitations and engage in collaborative efforts aimed at targeting and preventing crime. Among other things, the program will focus in 2017 and 2018 on “police response to mass demonstrations”, “active shooter response” and “officer safety and wellness”.
Sessions did state the preservation of civil rights was key to his department’s work, but that the “misdeeds of individual bad actors” should not reflect on the overall work of local law enforcement. The agency said in the statement that this is the conclusion of the collaborative reform program’s review.