The Justice Department's most recent attempt to be pro-cop actually hurts police officersGet the Full StoryAssociated Press Susan WalshIn January 2012, Sheriff Doug Gillespie of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sent a team to Washington, D.C. to ask the Justice Department for help. The LVMPD had been the subject of a five-part series published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal just months before.
The paper's investigation covered 20 years of shootings by the department. It concluded that many of the incidents were avoidable and accused the LVMPD of being an "insular" agency that celebrated "a hard-charging police culture while often failing to learn from its mistakes." Two weeks after the last piece ran, an LVMPD officer killed an unarmed, mentally ill, black veteran.
When the LVMPD team got to Washington, they met with the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services COPS and the department enrolled in a new program called Collaborative Reform. Through the program, COPS studied the LVMPD's use of deadly force, training, and accountability structures and provided recommendations for change. The department committed to implementing the reforms.
By the time COPS released a follow-up report two years later, police shootings were down, force investigations had become more rigorous and transparent, and officers had redoubled efforts to build trust in the community. Sheriff Gillespie said it was his proudest day in 34 years of policing.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week he is killing the DOJ's Collaborative Reform program as part of a "course correction" that better fits his priorities. As the LVMPD example illustrates, to do so is a mistake. It may align with the Trump administration's pro-cop rhetoric, but eliminating Collaborative Reform robs police departments and the communities they serve of a resource they actually want.
Maybe we should have seen this coming. During his confirmation hearings, Sessions testified that he believed DOJ lawsuits against police departments with patterns of abuse "undermine the respect for police officers." He has described police misconduct as the province of a few bad actors and seems to dispute the existence of any systemic problems in law enforcement. And, in a March 31 memo, Sessions announced that he was reconsidering all of DOJ's police reform work, including Collaborative Reform.
Whether predictable or not, the move doesn't make any sense at least not based on the justification provided. Sessions claims he eliminated Collaborative Reform "to respect local control," but it is a voluntary program. Local jurisdictions have to request help. Further, COPS and participating departments agree to the scope of the engagement, and the recommendations are non-binding.
Sessions' rationale also ignores that Collaborative Reform was created in response to requests from law enforcement. DOJ developed it to be a less costly and more cooperative but still independent alternative to civil rights suits. This option, officials thought, would be appropriate for agencies that saw the need for change and that had the motivation to get there without a consent decree, a legal agreement overseen and enforced by a federal judge.
Eliminating Collaborative Reform leaves police departments that want to change, like the 16 that have signed up since its creation, in the lurch. Police officials in several cities have already expressed their bewilderment and disappointment with DOJ's sudden withdrawal of support. In North Charleston, South Carolina, where former officer Michael Slager awaits sentencing for the murder of Walter Scott, the vice-chair of the police advisory commission said they were "counting on" DOJ's Collaborative Reform recommendations and are now "sitting here twiddling our thumbs."
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This abandonment suggests that while the Sessions Justice Department might be trying to signal support for officers, in reality it is undermining them. There is, after all, nothing pro-cop about denying police departments holistic assistance when they've asked for it. That's anti-police.
And Sessions isn't just ending the program. He's replacing it with an emphasis on 90s-era tactics that alienated communities and drove our prison population through the roof. It has been reported that the COPS office is shifting its energies toward "proactive policing."
By that, one can only assume Sessions means broken windows policing aggressive enforcement against minor offenses like loitering and turnstile-jumping in the hopes of preventing violent crime. He is on record supporting the approach, even though it has proved ineffective and has spawned unlawful practices like New York City's stop-and-frisk program.
It's also likely, going forward, that COPS will use its technical assistance and grant programs to pressure local departments to perform federal immigration enforcement duties. Sessions has already moved aggressively to strip funding from agencies that do not participate in Immigration and Customs Enforcement's efforts. Instead of getting help improving community trust, departments will be pushed to take action that, in their own estimation, will destroy it and make crime-fighting harder.
In the past, COPS has been criticized as undermining the theory of policing for which it is named. It has funneled billions into police departments for community policing, but that money was sometimes used for over-militarization and to pursue zero tolerance policing.
Collaborative Reform was a recognition that the office could do much more to help departments reduce unnecessary force, avoid biased policing, and thereby foster mutual trust with their communities. And that with stronger relationships in the community, police would be better able to solve and prevent crimes.
Sessions is throwing all of that out the window. Communities and officers alike are worse off for it.NOW WATCH: All blue-eyed people have a single ancestor in common