Justice Department refocuses police reform on fighting crime

WASHINGTON — An Obama-era program that helped troubled police departments build community trust, often after racially charged encounters, will instead focus on helping cities arrest violent criminals and dismantle gangs, the Justice Department said Friday.

The move marked another shift away from Obama administration priorities and from federal scrutiny of local law enforcement, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes can wrongly malign police departments and hurt officer morale.

The program, known as “collaborative reform,” allowed cities to voluntarily seek assistance from the Justice Department on issues such as use-of-force. Federal officials would then conduct wholesale investigations of the police departments and make non-binding recommendations for how they could improve, periodically monitoring their progress.

The agreements were largely optional, and some cities had found them helpful in repairing frayed relationships with the community. But the Justice Department under Sessions determined the program had become adversarial toward police and counter-productive to helping cities drive down violence, which Sessions views as the department’s top mission.

“This is 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,” Sessions said in a statement.

Cities will be able to seek assistance from the department’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services in areas such as active shooter training, how to prevent gun violence and officers safety and wellness. The department said the office will still offer information on “best practices,” but it will no longer provide the kind of lengthy investigations and audits it has done in the past.

Under the Obama administration, at least 15 departments sought reform through the collaborative reform process, many after deadly shootings involving police roiled the community.

 

 

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