On the same day as the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white St. Louis police officer who shot a black man during a high-speed chase in 2011, the Department Of Justice has announced that they are essentially abandoning the Collaborative Reform Initiative, an Obama-era program that was aimed at revamping community relations with police departments.
The program, which was tasked with investigating local police departments and issuing public reports about their failings, was administered by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). While the program overlapped with some of the work done by the Department’s civil rights division, it was an attempt to address issues arising from the multiple shootings by local police of unarmed civilians in the past few years as well as the increasing militarization of local police forces who have received surplus military equipment from the federal government to supplement their arms caches. While the Obama Administration moved to stop the distribution of this type of surplus gear in its last months in office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resumed the shipments last month as part of his move to put the Justice Department solidly on the side of local law enforcement.
While the Obama Administration moved to stop the distribution of this type of surplus gear in its last months in office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resumed the shipments last month as part of his move to put the Justice Department solidly on the side of local law enforcement.
According to The Washington Post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the move “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.” Critics of the Attorney General fear that the action is another step backwards for the rights of citizens who have been unfairly targeted by police simply because of their skin color or ethnicity.
With the removal of close scrutiny by federal officials, local police will have one less barrier to prevent the potential for abuse of power. Let’s hope that oversight by state and local governments will be powerful enough to replace the lack of a strong federal role in keeping local police behaving according to the standards we all should expect from them.
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