Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) has announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has opened a pattern or practice investigation into the Mount Vernon Police Department (MVPD).
The investigation will assess whether MVPD engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing. The investigation will also assess MVPD’s use of force, strip and body cavity searches, and how it handles evidence.
The department will conduct a comprehensive review of MVPD’s systems of accountability, including complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition and discipline. SDNY and the Civil Rights Division will also reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with the MVPD.
“An effective and accountable police department is a hallmark of a healthy and well-functioning democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to ensuring that law enforcement agencies across our country use their authority in a manner that is constitutional, transparent and free from discrimination.”
The investigation is being conducted under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and 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.
The Act allows the department to remedy such misconduct through civil litigation.
“Police officers have tough jobs, and so many do their work honorably, lawfully, and with distinction, respecting the rights of the citizens they have sworn to protect,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “But when officers break the law, they violate their oath and undermine a community’s trust.”
Just a few months after she took office in January, Westchester District Attorney Miriam Rocah called on the Justice Department to open an investigation into the department.
In a letter to MVPD Commissioner of Public Safety Glenn Scott, Rocah wrote: “My concern arises not from a single, isolated complaint, but from a number of them from 2012-20, making similar allegations of certain police officers illegally or inappropriately conducting these highly invasive searches without the high legal and/or factual predicate thresholds having been satisfied.”
“In the course of those investigations, based largely on publicly available information, we have found disturbing allegations of patterns of inappropriate and potentially unlawful conduct by several former and current members of the MVPD,” Rocah said in a news release publicly calling for the federal investigation.
The civil investigation is the fourth of its kind undertaken by the Biden Justice Department after the practice of policing the police was largely abandoned during the prior administration.