Cite or Arrest? The School’s New Innovation Lab Will Research the Options

Law enforcement officer writes a ticket

The Criminal Justice Innovation Lab (CJIL) at the UNC School of Government is pleased to announce the launch of The Citation Project in 2020. The project seeks to improve policing practices through implementation and rigorous evaluation of citation in lieu of arrest pilot programs across North Carolina.

Citation in lieu of arrest is recommended by groups including the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing as a “least harm” resolution that promotes effective crime reduction while building public trust. Research will inform criminal justice policy at the state and local level and holds the potential to produce ground-breaking results that can affect change nationwide.

Police action, such as opting for citations over arrests, can have a tremendous impact on defendants and communities. Policing decisions determine who enters the criminal justice system and who avoids it. Citations can be issued as an alternative to arrest, booking, and jail for some low-level crimes. Project research will help inform these critical decisions and provide needed data to help North Carolina law enforcement leaders improve policing practices.

The effort is a collaboration between the School, the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police (NCACP), and North Carolina State University. The project is led by Jessica Smith, W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government at UNC and CJIL founder. Sarah Desmarais, Associate Professor in the Applied Social and Community Psychology Program and Director of the Center for Family and Community Engagement at NC State, serves as lead researcher.

“We’re honored to be partnering with the Chiefs of Police Association on this project and to be supporting North Carolina’s law enforcement leaders as they explore how to best improve policing practices,” Smith said.

Smith is collaborating with the NCACP to develop a model policy and implementation plan, and police departments statewide will be invited to apply as pilots for the program. A team consisting of Smith, Desmarais, and three police chiefs chosen by the NCACP will select departments based on a number of factors, including:

  • commitment to implementation
  • adequacy of local resources
  • community demographics
  • caseloads

The project’s research team will conduct an in-depth evaluation to determine the effectiveness of interventions.

Smith owns a career of 20-plus years at the School of Government and is a leading expert in North Carolina criminal law. At the School, Smith works with judges, the law enforcement community and other members of the criminal justice system. She has presented to law enforcement at statewide and local meetings and has collaborated with them on projects including 2017’s Raise the Age legislation, bail reform, and a Citizen’s Police Academy program.

Smith is the founder of the Criminal Justice Innovation Lab, which seeks to promote a fair and effective criminal justice system, public safety, and economic prosperity. The Lab works by engaging a broad range of stakeholders to examine the criminal justice system through an evidence-based perspective and promoting the use of a rigorous evidence-based approach to criminal justice policy.

The Lab is an extension of the UNC School of Government’s mission to improve North Carolina communities by supporting local and state government. The School is the largest university-based local government training, advisory, and research organization in the United States. Nearly ninety years of non-advocacy, policy neutral, and responsive values mean that the School is a trusted resource for stakeholders across the North Carolina who seek the assistance and resources they need to lead and govern their communities.

Funding for the project will be provided in part by an unrestricted $325,000 gift from the Charles Koch Foundation.

“We are excited to support the Citation Project,” said Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “The Project’s research will help law enforcement develop best practices to improve public safety, increase trust between police and communities, and ensure that the criminal justice system offers alternatives to arrest that allow non-violent offenders a second chance.”

For more information on the Criminal Justice Innovation Lab and the Citation Project, visit