PHOENIX — The United States Department of Justice announced Thursday an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department and the city of Phoenix regarding department practices and use of force.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division announced the Justice Department opened "a pattern or practice investigation into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department," the DOJ said in a statement.
This investigation will assess all types of use of force by officers, including deadly force.
Investigators will also try to find out whether Phoenix Police retaliates against people practicing their First Amendment right of free speech and whether the department "unlawfully seizes or disposes of the belongings of individuals experiencing homelessness," the DOJ said.
“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 Attorney General Merrick Garland. “This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.”
Department of Justice officials informed Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, and other city officials of the investigation.
Williams held a media conference Thursday afternoon after the announcement. She said the department "embraces" the investigation and will cooperate with DOJ officials.
Gallego said in a statement she welcomes the DOJ's review into the police department.
“I welcome the U.S. Department of Justice review of the Phoenix Police Department. Comprehensive reform of policing in the City of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office. The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city. Along with the City Manager, and Chief of Police, I stand ready to support the USDOJ throughout this review process," Phoenix Mayor Gallego said regarding the investigation.
The president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents officers, issued a statement saying the organization will cooperate with the investigation.
"The top priority of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is to maintain a high standard of community policing, and promote ethical policies that protect police officers and our community. We are confident in the work of the Phoenix Police Department and our officers on the street, and we will fully cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation," President Britt London said in a statement.
The Department of Justice will reach out to the community to learn about their experiences with Phoenix Police.
Chief Williams said the investigation could take up to a year.
The investigation will be conducted under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This act prohibits local governments from "engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law," according to the Department of Justice.
The DOJ is able to pursue civil litigation against local municipalities if they are found to have violated individuals' rights.
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