DOJ Opens Probe Into Phoenix Police Similar to Those Underway in Louisville, Minneapolis

The Department of Justice is launching a probe into the Phoenix police force to examine if officers are using excessive force and abusing people, similar to the probes underway in Louisville and Minneapolis, the Associated Press reported.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the investigation Thursday. The probe will exam whether police have engaged in discriminatory policing practices and will work to determine if officers have retaliated unlawfully against those protected by the First Amendment.

This investigation is part of a "pattern or practice" examination. It will determine whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing and is a general sweeping review of the police department.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Investigation on Phoenix Police Department: DOJ
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Department of Justice has opened a pattern or practice investigation into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department to determine if they violated federal laws or citizens constitutional rights. Garland announced the investigation during a news conference at the Department of Justice on August 5, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The investigation into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department 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 to focus on policing and civil rights. Few such investigations were opened during the Trump administration.

Part of the investigation also examines whether police officers have been violating the rights of people who are experiencing homelessness by "seizing and disposing of their belongings in a manner that violates the Constitution," Garland said.

In announcing the probe, Garland also pointed to what he described as "straining the policing profession by turning to law enforcement to address a wide array of social problems."

"Too often we asked law enforcement officers to be the first and last option for addressing issues that should not be handled by our criminal justice system," he said "This makes police officers' jobs more difficult, increases unnecessary confrontations with law enforcement and hinders public safety."

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said investigators will review body camera video, along with training materials and other records. She said the Justice Department spoke with Phoenix city officials and they had expressed support for the probe.

"Protecting the rule of law demands that those who enforce our laws also abide by them," Clarke said.

The Justice Department had reviewed an array of publicly available information, including lawsuits and news reports before it decided to open the Phoenix investigation, Clarke said.

The police force has come under fire in recent years for its handling of protests. One lawsuit alleged that police and prosecutors colluded to target protesters during a demonstration last summer. In February, a local television station reported that a team of police officers had celebrated shooting a protester in the groin during another protest with commemorative coins they would share.

"We found that the evidence here warrants a full investigation, but we approach this process with no predispositions or pre-drawn conclusions," Clarke said.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced it was opening similar investigation into police forces in Minneapolis, after the death of George Floyd, and in Louisville, Kentucky, after the death of Breonna Taylor.

DOJ: Investigation on Phoenix Police Department
Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke, left, arrives for a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, to announce that the Department of Justice is opening an investigation into the city of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press