The US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday announced a practice or pattern investigation into the city of Phoenix and its police department to determine whether Phoenix Police Department (“PPD”) uses excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, whether PPD engages in discriminatory policing practices in violation of federal laws and the Constitution, and whether PPD violates the First Amendment by retaliating against individuals who undertake protected expressive activities.
The investigation will also focus on unlawful seizures and/or dispositions of the belongings of homeless individuals, and police practices when responding to disabled individuals.
The investigation will conduct a comprehensive review of PPD’s “policies, training, supervision, and force investigations, and systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition, and discipline.” The DOJ stated that it will reach out to community groups and the general public to learn about their experiences with PPD.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division stated that the DOJ has found evidence in Phoenix warranting a full investigation, but assured that it will approach the investigation “with no predispositions or pre-drawn conclusions.” Clarke further clarified that the DOJ will take the same approach as it did in its two previous pattern/practice investigations in Minneapolis and Louisville and further assured that it will work collaboratively with the Phoenix community and PPD.
Our pattern or practice investigations have been successful at identifying not only whether systemic misconduct is occurring, but also its root causes – so that those root causes can ultimately be fixed…If we conclude that there are no systemic violations of constitutional or federal statutory rights by the City or Phoenix Police Department, we will make that known. If, on the other hand, we conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that such violations are occurring, we will issue a report describing our findings and then aim to work cooperatively with the City to reach agreement on the best remedies. If an appropriate remedy cannot be achieved through agreement, the Attorney General is authorized to bring litigation to secure an appropriate injunctive remedy.
Noting that this is the third pattern or practice investigation he has announced, Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that the purpose of these investigations is to promote transparency and accountability, which in turn increases public trust and consequently public safety.
Garland also noted that the DOJ has briefed Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Police Chief Jeri Williams about the investigation, and thanked them for their support.
Phoenix reportedly has one of the highest rates of police shootings and killings of civilians in the country with civil rights leaders claiming that consequences to police officers are rare for escalating encounters, assaulting residents, defaulting to lethal force, and making false claims