The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Sept. 15 that, effective immediately, it is making significant changes in a program launched six years ago to investigate and issue reports of problems in some local police agencies.

The Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance (CRI-TA), part of DOJ’s Office of Community Policing Services, was launched in 2011 with the stated goal of building trust between local law enforcement agencies and their communities, especially minority communities.

To date, CRI-TA has entered agreements with 16 local law enforcement agencies, beginning with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Typically, a CRI-TA review lasts several years and starts with data audits and reviews, research, interviews, direct observations by assessment and technical assistance experts and consultants from federal agencies and outside groups. Based on this review, the program team then works to identify problems and potential solutions in such areas as training, objectives, tactics and policies. After reaching a consensus of methods for improving the local law enforcement agency’s performance, the program holds public education sessions and spends at least 18 months monitoring how well the suggested reforms were implemented and showed success. When the process is completed, the team selected by CRI-TA publishes a lengthy summary of its findings.

Technical assistance agreements have been entered with local law enforcers in several large cities and counties — besides Las Vegas, these include Philadelphia, San Francisco, Baltimore, St. Louis County, Milwaukee and Memphis — as well as medium and smaller communities, including Spokane, WA, Fayetteville, NC, North Charleston, SC, Pennsylvania, Fort Pierce, FL; and Salinas and Calexico, CA. At the time of DOJ’s announcement, CRI-TA was about to begin work with the St. Anthony, Minnesota police force.

The program was viewed by some as an easier alternative to more severe approaches to addressing such problems. For example, DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has investigated and sued some local law enforcement agencies over what it claimed were systemic patterns or practices discriminating against protected individuals or groups, or violating constitutional rights. According to this view, a local law enforcement agency that volunteers for the CRI-TA program might avoid litigation and possibly having a court-ordered monitor appointed to supervise local police operations. That strategy does not always succeed, however. The Baltimore police department’s enrollment in CRI-TA did not prevent it from being targeted by a DOJ Civil Rights Division lawsuit.

Announcing the change, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it would “return control to the public safety personnel… and focus on providing real-time technical assistance” to help reduce violent crime. Sessions termed it a “course correction” for the CRI-TA program to ensure its resources would go to agencies that require assistance, rather than to “expensive wide-ranging investigative assessments that go beyond the scope of technical assistance and support.” Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Congressional Black Caucus quickly sounded their opposition to the CRI-TA revamp.

In late March, Sessions ordered his department to review all its programs designed for local law enforcers, including the Collaborative Reform Initiative. The latest announcement concludes DOJ’s review of that program, although a press release said further guidance on the revised program will be forthcoming soon.

About Christopher Zoukis
Christopher Zoukis is an outspoken prisoner rights and correctional education advocate who is incarcerated at FCI Petersburg Medium in Virginia. He is an award-winning writer whose work has been published widely in major publications such as The Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, New York Daily News and various other print and online publications. Learn more about Christopher Zoukis at christopherzoukis.com and prisoneducation.com.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).