Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division have announced that the Justice Department has opened a pattern or practice investigation into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department (PhxPD).
The investigation will see if the department engages in discriminatory policing, if it engages in retaliation for First Amendment acts and if it illegally disposes of homeless people’s belongings. It will also examine all use of forces by officers, including deadly force.
The probe is expected to also look into the City of Phoenix’s and Phoenix police’s system for responding to people with disabilities. A comprehensive review of Phoenix police’s policies, training, supervision, and force investigations is also anticipated.
“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 Garland. “This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.”
In a statement, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association says it will fully cooperate with federal investigators, saying that it works to maintain a high standard of community policing while promoting ethical policies. “We are confident in the work of the Phoenix Police Department and our officers on the street,” said the union’s president, Michael Britt London.
The ACLU of Arizona responded to today’s announcement by stating that there is a need for fundamental change in the department and citing its legal actions as evidence for a complete overhaul of the department. “This is not a case of a few bad apples,” the nonprofit said. “Phoenix PD has deep-rooted, systemic problems with the way it treats community members. It’s time for this to change.”
A news investigation in 2020 analyzed nearly ten thousand incidents where Phoenix police officers used force during an encounter with a suspect or subject. The analysis revealed that African Americans account for a disproportionately higher number of violent encounters with police.
This is the third pattern-or-practice investigation that DOJ has launched during Garland’s tenure. In April, an investigation into the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and its police department was announced. That was followed by an investigation into the city of Louisville, Kentucky, and its police force.