US investigates Phoenix police over allegations of excessive force – .

US investigates Phoenix police over allegations of excessive force – .

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it is launching a widespread investigation into the Phoenix Police Force to determine whether officers have used excessive force and abused homeless people.

The City of Phoenix and Phoenix Police Department investigation is the third large-scale civilian investigation into a law enforcement agency conducted by the Justice Department of the Biden administration and comes as the Department is trying to shift its priorities to focus on policing and civil rights. . Few such investigations have been initiated under the Trump administration.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the investigation will also examine whether police engaged in discriminatory police practices and seek to determine whether officers retaliated against people engaged in First Amendment protected activities.

In June, Maricopa County’s senior prosecutor, which includes Phoenix, definitively dismissed charges that included gang allegations against more than a dozen people arrested during an October 2020 protest against police brutality.

The move came as civil rights activists complained that police and prosecutors in Phoenix were pursuing gang charges as part of an abusive political lawsuit aimed at silencing dissent and scaring protesters.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, welcomed the Justice Department’s investigation and said it would help with ongoing police reform measures she has been advocating since taking office in 2019.

“Public safety reform is an ongoing process in Phoenix, and now, with the help of the USDOJ, this strong agenda will continue,” Gallego said in a statement.

The city has implemented a new program to respond to mental health calls by placing behavioral health professionals in the field. The city also has a new police accountability office that is tasked with independently investigating allegations of wrongdoing by officers.

That office, however, may be crippled by a new state law signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey that restricts civilian review boards like the one Phoenix created.

City Councilor Sal DiCiccio, a frequent advocate for the Phoenix Police Department, said the department “has been the target of extreme attacks by activists determined to fund the police.”

“I welcome another pair of eyes to see what we already know: that we have a department made up of dedicated people who go out of their way to protect our community, and do so honorably and fairly,” a- he said in a statement.

Part of the investigation will also examine whether the police violated the rights of homeless people by “seizing and disposing of their property in a way that violates the Constitution,” Garland said.

The new investigation is known as the ‘model or practice’ – examining whether there is an unconstitutional or illegal policing model or practice – and usually consists of a thorough examination of the entire police service. .

In announcing the investigation, Garland also highlighted what he described as “straining the policing profession by turning to law enforcement to solve a wide range of social issues.”

“Too often we have asked law enforcement officers to be the first and last option to deal with issues that should not be addressed by our criminal justice system,” he said. public safety. ”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said investigators will meet with police and supervisors, review body camera video, as well as training materials and other records. She said the Department of Justice has spoken to officials in the city of Phoenix and expressed support for the investigation.

“Protecting the rule of law requires that those who enforce our laws also respect them,” said Clarke.

The Justice Department reviewed a range of publicly available information, including lawsuits and reports before deciding to open the Phoenix investigation, Clarke said.

Police have been criticized in recent years for their handling of protests and the high number of shootings. A lawsuit alleged police and prosecutors colluded to target protesters during a protest last summer. In February, a local television station reported that a police team celebrated shooting a protester in the groin during another protest with commemorative coins they would share.

“We have found that the evidence here warrants a full investigation, but we are approaching this process without predispositions or predisposed conclusions,” Clarke said.

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


Christie reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed


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