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Home | Tag Archives: texas dps

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This Texas program lands poor people in jail. Getting rid of it has been too complicated – but that might be changing.

Texas lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing to fix a program that critics say traps low-income drivers in a cycle of debt — with hopes that this time, they’ll find a solution.

The Driver Responsibility Program, enacted in 2003, charges Texas drivers additional yearly fees for certain traffic violations — from $100 for a few traffic tickets to $2,500 for driving while intoxicated, on top of the cost of the ticket. If drivers don’t pay within 105 days, the state suspends their licenses.

While lawmakers have tried to repeal or reform the program in past years — like in the last legislative session — they’ve encountered a major roadblock. The program’s fees pay for nearly half of the state’s emergency trauma care system, an expensive regional network of emergency medical services and hospital services. Without the program, where would lawmakers find $144 million to fill the gap?

Legislators in both the Texas House and Senate have filed bills to fix the program, but they’re still battling over details. At the center of it all is a moral dilemma: Who should pay for the state’s trauma care system? Is it a cost we all must bear, or should the burden fall on so-called reckless drivers? And is the cost assessed equitably — or is it shouldered by the state’s poor?

The cycle of debt

After drivers lose their licenses from failure to pay a traffic ticket or a Driver Responsibility Program surcharge, they’ll often still need to drive — but they’re more likely to be pulled over, according to Emily Gerrick, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project.

Drivers who haven’t paid their tickets aren’t able to register their vehicles, and police scanners allow law enforcement to target drivers with outstanding fines or fees. Failure to pay tickets leads to more fines — and often, accompanying surcharges.

“Each time you get pulled over, you get a ticket,” said Gerrick. “It all piles up and piles up until they start to lose all hope.”

The Washington Post reported last year that “by far,” Texas suspends the most driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines, and the Driver Responsibility Program accounts for the lion’s share of that number.

In November 2016, the Department of Public Safety reported that more than 3 million drivers had racked up $16.5 million in surcharges since the program began. At the time, about 1.4 million drivers — nearly 10 percent of the state’s licensed drivers that year — were suspended for not paying surcharges, and that number had not budged as of January 2018.

And driving without a valid license can result in even greater consequences. Texans can go to jail for multiple driving-without-a-license violations or failure to appear in court or pay fees.

In December, the Austin Community Law Center and Washington-based Equal Justice Under the Law filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas, which claims that the Driver Responsibility Program disproportionately punishes low-income offenders who can’t pay their fines.

The logic behind the program is that bad drivers should be held accountable for their misdeeds. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of hospitalizations in Texas, so, the thinking goes, the program requires reckless drivers to pay the burden of care.

However, most unpaid surcharge cases are for offenses not related to public safety, like driving without insurance. Meanwhile, public safety-related offenses like driving while intoxicated or speeding account for less than 12 percent of unpaid surcharge cases.

Carrie Kroll, the vice president of advocacy, quality and public health for the Texas Hospital Association, says that the group opposes any legislation that would repeal the program without establishing a new way to pay for trauma care.

Maintaining trauma care funding, she said, is critical for Texas hospitals, which use the money to provide services like emergency medical technicians and round-the-clock specialists for those who can’t pay. Every year, while Medicaid underpays for medically necessary services, Texas trauma hospitals rack up $320 million in unreimbursed trauma care costs.

The roughly $100 million in the state trauma fund, including about $71.2 million from driver surcharges, earns Texas hospitals additional money through Medicaid. In total, state and federal funds supply $327.2 million for trauma hospital and safety-net hospitals, which provide health care for low-income patients.

However, even with its multimillion-dollar contribution to the trauma care system, the Driver Responsibility Program routinely underperforms. In the 2016 budget year, the program was supposed to provide $331 million in revenue, but it generated less than half that amount.

Who should pay?

Lawmakers have a full menu of options to fix the Driver Responsibility Program, each with a different perspective on who should pay the cost of trauma care.

“Any of us could end up in a trauma hospital,” said Rep. James White, a Republican from rural East Texas. “This is a cost that we should see collectively assessed across the board, rather than on a specific class of people.”

White and Democratic Reps. Ron Reynolds and Thresa “Terry” Meza have filed a billto repeal the program and eliminate surcharges.

White also said the program may contribute to long lines at driver’s license offices, citing data from a popular Texas criminal justice blog.

He’s still brainstorming potential funding streams, but he mentioned a few possibilities: pulling money from the general revenue fund, or adding an additional fee for new driver’s licenses, IDs or — as proposed in a bill by Republican Sen. Bob Hall — vehicle registrations.

Other lawmakers, including Hall, have offered to replace the program by increasing fines for certain traffic crimes, and some, like Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, would impose higher costs on drivers with more serious offenses.

Krause’s House Bill 1145, which resembles a bill from last session that died in the Senate, would replace the program’s surcharges with a $30 up-charge on traffic tickets and a higher fine on intoxicated and unlicensed drivers.

However, criminal fines still impose a financial burden on low-income drivers. According to Gerrick, drivers unable to pay such fines, or those who fail to appear at their court hearings, could also lose their licenses through another, more burdensome program — often called the “Omni program” after Omnibase Services, the company contracted to manage it.

While the Driver Responsibility Program has a provision for low-income drivers to waive or reduce their fees, the Omni program lacks a similar condition. Also, drivers in the Driver Responsibility Program can get back their licenses once they pay their surcharges, but the Omni program won’t lift a hold on someone’s license until the fine is paid.

Hall and Sen. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, have introduced a bill to repeal the program, with a temporary increase of traffic fines, but — unlike Krause’s bill — the proposal imposes no increased fees on intoxicated or unlicensed drivers.

However, Miles’ proposal still leaves a funding gap for trauma centers, so he’s exploring other ways to fill the gap, like a tax on electric cigarettes or products with cannabidiol, a cannabis compound often sold as oil.

More solutions to fix the program may emerge in the coming weeks, according to Kroll. She’s worked on trauma funding since 2013 and says this session is different because there’s a larger pot of general revenue — and some of the additional $9 billion could be diverted to trauma care funding.

White also remained hopeful that legislators could achieve concrete reforms and mentioned he was open to a compromise, saying, “We’re not going to shut the government down over this.”

Disclosure: The Texas Hospital Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Author:  ARYA SUNDARAM –  The Texas Tribune

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.


EPPD, Texas DPS Announce Joint Citizen Academy

The El Paso Police Department (EPPD), in conjunction with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), is now accepting applications for the next Citizen’s Academy, which begins September 25, 2018.

The Citizens Academy is designed to educate students about the many safety challenges Texans face every day and how law enforcement organizations function on a daily basis to protect and serve their community.

The 11-week academy will introduce students to the various programs and services provided by law enforcement, and will provide interactive, hands-on education during weekly meetings.

A total of 14-classes will be held over the 11-week period, all scheduled for Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 9:00 p.m,  with an additional three Saturday morning classes as well.

Participants in the academy will learn about the different services each agency offers.

This year’s academy will include topics such as: patrol procedures, SWAT, the crime lab, aircraft operation, border operations, K-9 units, crash investigations, criminal investigations and an overview of use of force topics.

Via news release, EPPD officials shared, “We are also excited to announce the addition of the BorderRAC (Regional Advisory Council) to our team. Staff from the BorderRAC will be joining us during one class session to provide a “Stop the Bleed” class to our students…that day will also include a presentation on the CRASE program (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events).

The academy will be held at various locations throughout the El Paso area. The public and the media are invited to submit an application to participate in the academy.

The Citizen’s Academy will accept no more than 30 students, and each student must commit to attend at least 11 of the 14 classes to graduate.

Applications are available online or may be picked up at any EPPD Regional Command or the DPS Office, located at 11612 Scott Simpson.

Completed applications can be returned to any regional command, the Texas DPS Office on Scott Simpson or scanned and emailed to

Questions regarding this upcoming Citizens Academy should be forwarded to:

EPPD Contact: Det. Mike Baranyay at 915-212-4312 or email at
DPS Contact: Sgt. Jaime Aburto at 915-849-4001 or email at

Texas Will Give Out Enough Bulletproof Vests to Equip 40% of Police in State

Texas is doling out almost $23 million in state funds to provide enough bulletproof vests to equip more than 40 percent of licensed law enforcement officers in the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, released a list of 453 agencies this week that will receive funding through a grant created by legislators last year after a sniper killed five police officers in Dallas during an otherwise peaceful protest against police shootings in 2016.

“The job of our law enforcement community is becoming more difficult as the threats our officers face continue to increase,” Abbott said at a press conference in Dallas on Tuesday — National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

The money will equip nearly 33,000 officers with vests or body armor that can withstand gunfire from high-powered automatic weapons. There are approximately 77,500 licensed law enforcement officers in the state, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

The legislation was a priority for Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who joined Abbott and the bill’s author, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, at the announcement.

“This grant program is one more step the state can take to enhance the safety of our officers and to make sure our police know that, in Texas, we back the blue,” Patrick said.

To receive funding under the grant, local jurisdictions had to submit applications by September. In the application process, agencies were able to select which vests they wanted, which caused discrepancies in agency funding.

For example, Harris County received the most vests of any jurisdiction — 4,385 for law enforcement officers including sheriff’s deputies, constables and fire marshals. The county got more than $3 million to cover the costs. But the city of Houston was awarded more money for fewer vests.

Houston’s more than $3.9 million in funding will cover about 3,600 vests, placing the average cost per vest at more than $1,000 compared to Harris County’s $700. The average cost of vests per jurisdiction ranged from $220 to $2,100, according to the list provided by the governor.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • In May, the Texas House passed Senate Bill 12 to create and fund a bulletproof vest grant program to outfit approximately 50,000 officers with vests that can withstand rounds from high-caliber firearms. [Full story]
  • Texas lawmakers passed a bill last year making any crime against police or judges a hate crime. [Full story]
  • The July ambush of police officers in downtown Dallas was one of the highest-profile examples of the intense community-law enforcement divide in 2016. [Full story]

Author –  JOLIE MCCULLOUGH – The Texas Tribune

DPS Urges Texans to Stay Vigilant, Report Suspicious Activity

AUSTIN – In light of the attack in Las Vegas over the weekend and as part of national Crime Prevention Month (October), the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is calling on all Texans to remain vigilant regarding potential crime and terrorist activity in their communities, and to report suspicious behaviors to local authorities or the department’s iWATCH website.

“In the wake of the cowardly attack in Las Vegas, we continue to keep everyone impacted by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “We also want to remind the public of the potentially crucial role they play in helping law enforcement combat groups and lone-wolf actors intent on harming others. No matter where you are – alone or in a large group – always stay alert, and report any illegal or suspicious activity you witness to iWATCH or to your local authorities.”

The iWATCH program was created as a partnership between communities and law enforcement, and utilizes citizen-sourced tips related to criminal activity. Concerned citizens who observe suspicious activity can visit the iWATCH website to fill out a report.

A report usually takes fewer than five minutes to complete, and once submitted, each report is reviewed by law enforcement analysts. To make an anonymous report, individuals can contact DPS at 1-844-643-2251.

iWATCH is not designed to report emergencies. If a situation requires an emergency response, call 911.

Preparations for terrorist attacks may often be seen but rarely reported. When in doubt, speak up.

Here are some examples of behaviors and activities to report:

  • Strangers asking questions about building security features and procedures.
  • Briefcase, suitcase, backpack or package is left behind.
  • Cars or trucks are left in no-parking zones at important buildings.
  • Chemical smells or fumes that are unusual for the location.
  • People requesting sensitive information, such as blueprints, security plans or VIP travel schedules, without a need to know.
  • Purchasing supplies that could be used to make bombs or weapons, or purchasing uniforms without having the proper credentials.
  • Taking photographs or videos of security features, such as cameras or checkpoints.

Reports to iWATCH can also be made through the DPS Mobile App. The app is currently available for iPhone users on the Apple App Store and for Android users on Google Play.

Texas DPS Releases Annual Threat Overview Report

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has released the 2017 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview, a state intelligence estimate that offers an assessment of the current public safety threats to Texas.

“Protecting Texans from the full scope of public safety and homeland security threats is the foremost goal of DPS, and the department works with our fellow law enforcement partners at all levels of government to prepare for the unthinkable,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “This report provides an invaluable assessment of the most significant threats facing our state and is a crucial tool in combating those threats.”

The report draws on the data and perspectives of multiple law enforcement and homeland security agencies, whose contributions were essential to developing this assessment. It also includes a description of the state’s systematic approach to detect, assess and prioritize public safety threats within seven categories, including terrorism, crime, natural disasters, motor vehicle crashes, public health, industrial accidents and cyber threats.

The report ascertains that, due to recent terrorist attacks perpetrated by domestic lone offenders and large foreign terrorist organizations like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), the current terrorism threat to Texas is elevated.

The assessment also recognizes that the heightened threat is expected to persist during the next year, due in part to the relatively high number of recent terrorism-related arrests and thwarted plots, and the prevalence of ISIS’s online recruitment and incitement messaging.


Additional significant findings include:

  • Threats from violent domestic antigovernment extremists remain concerning in light of standoffs with federal law enforcement in Oregon in 2014 and Nevada in early 2016, as well as a series of ambush murders of police officers.
  • Crime threatens the public safety and liberty of all Texans in some way. DPS Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program data for 2015 shows a 4.7 percent decrease of the major crime rate in Texas from 2014. This is positive for the safety and welfare of our citizens. Conversely, violent crimes in particular increased for the second year in a row. Texas’ UCR program includes seven index crimes: homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. What the index crime data does not currently account for are other crimes typically committed by criminal organizations that impact the security of Texas communities, such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, money laundering, and public corruption.
  • Criminal organizations – including Mexican cartels and transnational gangs – and individual criminals engage in a wide range of illicit activities in Texas. Among the vilest crimes these organizations and other criminals engage in is the exploitation and trafficking of children and other vulnerable victims. Human trafficking is highly profitable, and is the fastest growing organized crime business in Texas.
  • All eight of the major Mexican cartels operate in Texas, and they have enlisted transnational and statewide gangs to support their drug and human smuggling and human trafficking operations on both sides of the border.
  • Gangs continue to pose a significant public safety threat to Texas, and their propensity for violence and many kinds of criminal activity is persistent. While the greatest concentrations of gang activity tend to be in the larger metropolitan areas, gang members are also present in the surrounding suburbs and in rural areas. Gang activity is especially prevalent in some of the counties adjacent to Mexico and along key smuggling corridors, since many Texas-based gangs are involved in cross-border trafficking.
  • Motor vehicle crashes killed 3,520 people in Texas in 2015. In addition, the high volume of commercial motor vehicles on Texas’ roadways is a particular concern because of the increased potential for loss of life when large-mass commercial vehicles are involved in crashes.
  • Texas faces an array of natural threats, including floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornados, and drought, with more major disaster declarations than any other state in the nation. These disasters result in loss of life, damage to infrastructure, and billions of dollars in personal property damage and economic losses.
  • Public health threats to Texas remain a significant concern, with emerging infectious diseases and other illnesses such as influenza and enteroviruses.
  • Major industrial accidents constitute another potential threat to public safety, especially because of the large industrial base in Texas. The state’s vast size and economic importance contribute to the potential for severe consequences if any significant accidents occur.
  • Since technology has become a target, a vulnerability and a tool used by criminals and foreign governments, cyber threats continue to be a significant area of concern, and we are especially concerned about the potential consequences of a successful cyberattack on the state’s critical infrastructure.

“As terrorism has become more disaggregated, communities in Texas and across the nation are facing a heightened threat of terrorism, and the continued potential for attacks against civilians and members of law enforcement is a serious ongoing concern,” said Director McCraw. “The report identifies several other unique threats to our state – including organized crime and Mexican cartels, natural disasters and cyber attacks – for which we must be prepared. With the 2017 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview in mind, DPS will continue working with our law enforcement partners to prevent, respond to and recover from all potential threats facing our state.”

To view the complete click 2017 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview

DPS Launches Enhanced Traffic Enforcement for Holidays

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is urging drivers to help make the holidays safer by driving sober and using extra caution.

In an effort to protect travelers on our roadways, DPS Troopers, as well as local law enforcement across the state, will conduct traffic patrols throughout the holiday weekends of Dec. 23 – 26 and Dec. 31Jan. 1, looking for drunk drivers, speeders, seat belt violators and other dangerous drivers.

“Impaired driving or reckless behavior on the road can turn holiday celebrations into tragedies, and these DPS patrols are designed to help save lives by identifying drivers who disregard the law and endanger others,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “By always driving sober, obeying traffic laws, and slowing down or moving over a lane when vehicles are stopped on the side of the road, Texans can help make our roads safer for everyone.”

During the eight-day Christmas/New Year holiday enforcement effort last year, DPS troopers made 466 DWI arrests.

DPS enforcement efforts also resulted in 9,174 speeding citations, 893 seat belt/child safety seat citations, 320 fugitive arrests and 286 felony arrests during the enforcement period.

DPS offers the following additional tips for safe travel during the holidays:

  • Don’t drink and drive. Designate a driver or take a cab.
  • Slow down – especially in bad weather, construction areas and heavy traffic.
  • Eliminate distractions, including the use of mobile devices.
  • Buckle up everyone in the vehicle – it’s the law.
  • Slow down or move over for police, fire, EMS and Texas Department of Transportation vehicles and tow trucks that are stopped on the side of the road with emergency lights activated – it’s the law. Also, show the same courtesy to fellow drivers stopped along the road.
  • Don’t drive fatigued.
  • Drive defensively, as holiday travel may present additional challenges.
  • Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained and check the weather forecast before your trip begins.

State Nearing Goal of 250 New Border Troopers

The Texas Department of Public Safety is nearing its goal of permanently assigning 250 additional troopers to the state’s border with Mexico. And after initially concentrating its efforts in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas, the agency is now expanding its target area to include West Texas and Big Bend.

By the end of August, the DPS academy will have graduated 209 of the 250 border troopers required by House Bill 11, an omnibus border-security measure passed in 2015 mandating the increase in staffing levels.

Agency spokesman Tom Vinger said most of the new recruits are in the agency’s Region 3, which extends from Val Verde County to Cameron County on the Gulf Coast and includes the McAllen, Laredo and Corpus Christi districts.

Of the 123 troopers that graduated earlier this year, about half were assigned to Region 3 and 20 to Region 4, which spans from El Paso County to Terrell County. That’s in addition to other troopers assigned in West Texas to help fill vacancies.

Extending the border deployments to West Texas troubles some lawmakers, who argue that part of the Texas border isn’t experiencing the same surge of undocumented immigrants that Hidalgo and Cameron counties have seen since 2014. Lawmakers said that wave of unauthorized entries justified the unprecedented allotment of $800 million for additional border security the Legislature approved in 2015.

Critics argued that the border was safe and that the immigrants were fleeing violence and meant Texans no harm. But lawmakers said the U.S. Border Patrol could be distracted by the surge and that DPS was needed to fill in the gaps.

State Sen. José Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said that’s not happening in his district.

“There is no evidence Border Patrol is distracted or requesting assistance in El Paso or elsewhere, and there has been no ‘surge’ in immigrants crossing in or immediately around El Paso,” he said.

Rodriguez added that he’s heard from local peace officers that DPS officers sometimes “spend more time harassing local townsfolk” than performing police work, and that his office wasn’t told about any increase in DPS activity.

“We are not aware of DPS communication with other law enforcement agencies, lawmakers or — importantly — community stakeholders,” he said.

Vinger said placing more officers in West Texas falls in line with the agency’s overall border-security mission, though it’s unclear how many more troopers are slated for that part of the state.

“At the direction of state leaders and the Texas Legislature, DPS personnel from across the state are deployed to the border on a rotational basis in a multi-agency effort to deter, detect and interdict the trafficking of drugs and people into our state,” he said. “DPS will work with its local, state and federal partners to target transnational criminal activity, including drug trafficking, labor trafficking, sex trafficking and money laundering in key Texas transshipment and trafficking centers and other impacted areas throughout the state.”

Vinger said another training class with 160 enlistees begins in July, and another in September.

Though the 250-trooper increase garnered the most controversy, it is actually a fraction of the state police’s overall border effort.txtribdps

Vinger said trooper levels may exceed the 250 required to make up for attrition and openings the DPS needed to fill regardless of HB 11’s border-staffing goals. And although the 209 will go toward fulfilling the legislative mandate, there will be 288 recent graduates assigned to the border area by the end of August. According to a DPS fact sheet released in April, there were 230 additional troopers in the border area that were deployed from other locations across the state, and the equivalent of 313 more full-time troopers when overtime work is added to the totals.

When the April brief was released, trooper strength on the border exceeded 1,200 officers, according to DPS. Vinger said trooper rotations to the border from other parts of Texas would continue until the state’s leadership or Legislature say otherwise. Rookie troopers will also be paired with veteran officers for at least six months after graduation.

Though some border lawmakers balk at the increased staffing, some U.S. Border Patrol agents in understaffed zones welcome their presence.

“They’re a great asset, they are force multipliers,” U.S. Border Patrol Agent José Perales said during a recent border tour in Roma, Texas. “It’s good to know they are out here working with us. So it’s a positive [thing] for us.”

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

DPS Program Assists 3,800 Victims of Crime, Trauma in 2015

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced today that the DPS Victim Services program provided services to more than 3,800 victims and their family members throughout Texas in 2015. Created in 1997, the DPS program is designed to offer assistance to victims of crimes and other traumatic events, including non-crime fatal crashes and disasters.

“DPS has been entrusted with the enormous responsibility of protecting the public and combatting crime in Texas, and we are supremely aware that people’s lives are deeply affected by traumatic events and the very crimes we fight,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “The department’s Victim Services program is committed to empowering victims by providing them with support, information and assistance throughout the criminal justice process and beyond.”

The DPS program includes 16 licensed behavioral health professionals and one victim assistance specialist; 15 of which are regionally located in DPS regional and district offices so that they are co-located with commissioned personnel. Victims may self-refer to the program and obtain services even if they have not reported the crime (except for mandatory reporting requirements related to child abuse, abuse of the elderly or persons with disabilities).

In 2015, DPS Victim Services personnel assisted 3,877 new victims. Throughout the course of the year, program members also conducted 9,126 service contacts with victims. Of the victims served in 2015, the types of crimes associated with their cases include DUI-related fatalities and injuries; other vehicular crimes (criminal negligent homicide, failure to stop and render aid); homicide; sex offenses; exploited, abused or endangered children; and more.

The trauma-informed services offered by the DPS program personnel include:

  • Providing information and assistance related to state-mandated victims’ rights.
  • Providing specialized advocacy, which may include clarifying reporting options, helping victims work with the investigating law enforcement agency, providing information on the investigative process and criminal justice system, accessing other resources.
  • Assisting individuals in applying for the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program.
  • Providing crisis support and safety planning.
  • Providing trauma counseling, particularly in rural areas where resources are limited.

DPS’ Victim Services program primarily serves victims of incidents investigated by Texas Highway Patrol, Texas Rangers and the Criminal Investigations Division. However, the program also extends its resources to local, state and federal criminal justice agencies.

For more information about the program and available services, see

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