Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division said on Thursday that the Justice Department opened a “pattern or practice investigation” into the City of Phoenix and its police force.
The move comes two days after the Phoenix Police Department released edited bodycam footage of an officer fatally shooting a 31-year-old man armed with a knife in July. However, officials did not reference that incident when announcing the probe.
During pattern-or-practice investigations, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division looks at whether a local police agency has any persistent misconduct patterns that violate the Constitution or federal law. In addition, it explores possible systemic deficiencies that may enable such practices, and investigators interview community members and other criminal justice stakeholders to learn about their experiences with the department in question.
Attorney General Merrick Garland: "Today we are announcing that the Justice Department is opening an investigation into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department." pic.twitter.com/L7U45f4Ox5
— CSPAN (@cspan) August 5, 2021
According to the DOJ, the investigation will in part assess use of force by the Phoenix PD, seek to determine whether its officers engage in retaliatory conduct or discriminatory policing, and determine if police have unlawfully seized or disposed of the belongings of homeless people.
“When we conduct pattern or practice investigations to determine whether the Constitution or federal law has been violated, our aim is to promote transparency and accountability,” said Garland. “This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety.”
Garland said DOJ officials were “pleased” by the “pledge of support” from Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Police Chief Jeri Williams.
The Associated Press reported the probe “is the third sweeping civil investigation into a law enforcement agency brought by the Justice Department in the Biden administration and comes as the department has worked to shift its priorities on policing and civil rights.” Biden’s DOJ previously announced pattern-or-practice investigations into police departments in Minneapolis and Louisville.
“One of the highest priorities of the Civil Rights Division is to ensure that every person in this country benefits from policing that is lawful, effective, transparent, and free from discrimination,” said Assistant Attorney General Clarke in a statement. “Police officers across the country must use their authority in a manner that adheres to the Constitution, complies with federal civil rights laws and respects human dignity.”
More details from USA Today:
In short order, the Garland Justice Department has revived federal scrutiny of local police agencies, a strategy that was all but halted during the Trump administration when officials opened one such investigation. The Obama administration, meanwhile, launched 25 inquiries into police operations.
Before taking office, President Joe Biden had been planning a rearming of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, hosting an online meeting in December with civil rights leaders to hash out a path forward.
Among those on the call was Clarke, then-president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and now Biden’s Civil Rights chief.
Clarke was confirmed as the DOJ’s top civil rights lawyer in May despite repeatedly posting misinformation about the police killing of Breonna Taylor on social media last year.