AG Garland announces civil rights investigation of Phoenix Police Dept. and the City of Phoenix

At a press conference on Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the Department of Justice will open an investigation into the city of Phoenix and its police department to determine whether or not they engage in "patterns and practices" that routinely violate individuals' constitutional rights or federal law. During his opening remarks, Garland pointed to five areas of interest, including the alleged use of excessive force against Phoenix's homeless population. This is the third such investigation the DOJ has launched since the beginning of the year.

Video Transcript

MERRICK GARLAND: Good afternoon. I'm joined here today by Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Christine Clark. Today we are announcing that the Justice Department is opening an investigation into the city of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department. The investigation will determine whether the Phoenix Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.

This is the third pattern or practice investigation I have announced as attorney general. Each time, I have noted that these investigations aim to promote transparency and accountability. This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.

The Justice Department has briefed Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Police Chief Jerry Williams about the investigation. We are pleased by their pledge of support. They too recognize that we share common aims. Our investigation in Phoenix will be led by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. It is based on the division's extensive review of publicly available information and it will consider several issues.

First, whether the Phoenix Police Department uses excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Second, whether the Phoenix Police Department engages in discriminatory policing practices that violate the Constitution and federal law. Third, whether the department violates the First Amendment by retaliating against individuals who are engaged in protected expressive activities.

Fourth, whether the city and its police department respond to people with disabilities in a manner that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. This includes whether decisions to criminally detain individuals with behavioral health disabilities are proper. And fifth, whether the Phoenix Police Department violates the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness by seizing and disposing of their belongings in a manner that violates the Constitution.

Those last two areas of investigative focus speak to an important issue that is broader than the Phoenix investigation. Our society is straining the policing profession by turning to law enforcement to address a wide array of social problems. Too often we ask law enforcement officers to be the first and last option for addressing issues that should not be handled by our criminal justice system. This makes police officers' jobs more difficult, increases unnecessary confrontations with law enforcement, and hinders public safety.

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