Civil Rights Investigation into Phoenix Police Launched

The Justice Department launches a civil rights investigation into the Phoenix police department

The Justice Department announced a civil rights investigation on Aug. 5 into the Phoenix police department to investigate its use of force and policies on dealing with homeless residents. 

This is the third federal probe into local law enforcement under the Biden administration. This practice was one that had died off during the Trump administration. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the pattern and practice investigation will work to determine if the Phoenix police engaged in excessive force or discriminatory behavior. Investigators will also examine how police have treated residents with mental and physical disabilities and if the agency has unlawfully disposed of belongings of homeless residents. This issue was not mentioned when the investigations into Minneapolis and Louisville police began this spring. 

“Too often we ask law enforcement to be the first and last option,” Garland said. Such situations, he added, “make police officers’ jobs more difficult, increase unnecessary confrontations with law enforcement and hinder public safety.”

Phoenix leaders have welcomed the investigation. 

Mayor Kate Gallego said, “The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city.” 

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams detailed how her department has engaged in reform efforts in the past and would cooperate with the federal probe. Williams said at a news conference the department hopes to learn what they are doing right and what can be improved upon. They recognized the importance of public trust and accountability. 

President of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, Michael “Britt” London, said his organization is confident in the work they do and will cooperate with investigators. Their top priority “is to maintain a high standard of community policing, and promote ethical policies that protect police officers and our community,” London said in a statement.

The investigation will take months to complete. If the Justice Department concludes that there has been misconduct, they could potentially pursue a court-approved consent decree; this would mandate broad reform for the Phoenix department. 

The current investigations in Minneapolis and Louisville have led to over 1,000 interviews with community leaders, dozens of patrol rides, and multiple meetings with police command staff. Similar events can be expected during the Phoenix investigation. 

“One thing we have learned over the decades is that we must and will work collaboratively with the Phoenix community and police department,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice’s Civil Rights Division said. 

Phoenix police agreed with Garland that police are often asked to respond to situations involving social problems that officers are not properly trained to handle. 

The city has already approved $15 million in city funds to help create and grow and a new community assistance program that would focus on training staff for crisis intervention. 

“It’s always our responsibility to treat people well, with dignity and respect, and this cannot be solely a police responsibility,” Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher said. 

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