PHOENIX — The U.S. Attorney General and the Justice Department announced Thursday that they have opened a top-to-bottom investigation -- a "pattern or practice investigation" -- into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department over its use-of-force policies, general policing, and allegations of retaliation against protesters.
Among the specific items the investigation will look at:
- assess all types of use of force by Phoenix police officers, including deadly force
- whether Phoenix police engages in retaliatory activity against people for conduct protected by the First Amendment
- whether Phoenix police engages in discriminatory policing
- whether Phoenix police unlawfully seizes or disposes of the belongings of individuals experiencing homelessness
- assess the City and Phoenix police’s systems and practices for responding to people with disabilities
BREAKING: Today the DOJ is opening a paternities of practice civil rights investigation into the City of Phoenix and Phoenix Police Department.— Dave Biscobing (@DaveBiscobing15) August 5, 2021
“The investigation will include a comprehensive review of [Phoenix Police Department] policies, training, supervision, and force investigations, as well as [Phoenix Police Department's] systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition, and discipline," the Department of Justice said in a news release.
The DOJ said it informed Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, and other City officials of the investigation.
In a prepared statement following the DOJ's announcement, Mayor Gallego said she welcomed the investigation and would support the DOJ's review.
"Comprehensive reform of policing in the City of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office. The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city," she said.
Following the announcement on Thursday, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and City Manager Ed Zuercher held a press conference to address the new investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Watch the press conference in the player below.
“This is something that we should not be afraid of, it should be welcomed. The transparency that's going to be exposed is going to be extreme and it's going to, it's going to be painful,” said Dr. Jeff Hynes, a retired Phoenix PD Commander and current Justice Professor at Glendale Community College.
“But part of the painful aspect of this journey will be the improvement for our community, our city, our state and the nation as a whole.”
“Public trust is essential for effective policing and accountability is a big component of that trust,” said Chief Jeri Williams. “But I’m also confident that at the end of the day, if they tell us to do some things differently we will fully embrace that and work towards that end.”
"I think what the DOJ is going to find is all the reform efforts we've made in the last year,” said Chief Williams.
“We're not afraid to embrace anyone coming in and making outside assessment of our agency. And wherever the gaps are, we'll figure those gaps out and we'll become a better police department.”
But what does it say that the DOJ, after all those reforms, is still coming in? They know what you've done and they're still saying we need to go camp out in Phoenix and do a deep dive investigation into your department?” asked Zach Crenshaw.
“We embrace it, we welcome it,” replied the chief.
ABC15 INVESTIGATIONS CONTRIBUTE TO DOJ ACTION
The Phoenix Police Department has long been the subject of internal and external investigations and criticism for years -- despite constant promises of reform and improving community relations -- following its use-of-force policies, the number of police shootings, and how the agency has responded to protests.
Sources tell ABC15 that the station's reporting on protest cases has been specifically discussed with top DOJ officials.
As part of an ongoing ABC15 investigation, Politically Charged focuses on protest arrests and prosecutions by Phoenix police and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
In February, ABC15's Dave Biscobing reported an investigation highlighting officials creating a ‘fictional gang' to punish Phoenix protesters.
Additionally, following shooting a protester in the groin, a special team of Phoenix Police officers celebrated the shot with commemorative coins to sell and share.
A pair of outside investigations ordered by the City of Phoenix in response to ABC15’s reporting on police protest cases is finished and will be released publicly next week.
In March, documents showed Phoenix police spent hours monitoring protest leaders during a peaceful October demonstration, calling the activists "targets" while surveilling them with drones, surveillance cameras, and vehicles.
STATEMENTS FROM OFFICIALS
“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 Attorney General Merrick Garland. “This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.”
“One of the highest priorities of the Civil Rights Division is to ensure that every person in this country benefits from policing that is lawful, effective, transparent, and free from discrimination,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “Police officers across the country must use their authority in a manner that adheres to the Constitution, complies with federal civil rights laws and respects human dignity.”
A portion of the statement from the U.S. Department of Justice is as follows:
"The investigation is being conducted pursuant to 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 statute allows the Department of Justice to remedy such misconduct through civil litigation. This is the seventy-third investigation of a law enforcement agency conducted pursuant to this statute since it was enacted in 1994. The department will be assessing law enforcement practices under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as under the Safe Streets Act of 1968; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act."
The Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, in Washington, D.C., will conduct this investigation.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego released a statement following the announcement, reading in part:
"I welcome the U.S. Department of Justice review of the Phoenix Police Department. Comprehensive reform of policing in the City of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office. The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city. Along with the City Manager, and Chief of Police, I stand ready to support the USDOJ throughout this review process."
Read Mayor Gallego's full statement below.
"The top priority of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is to maintain a high standard of community policing, and promote ethical policies that protect police officers and our community. We are confident in the work of the Phoenix Police Department and our officers on the street, and we will fully cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation," said PLEA President Michael "Britt" London in a statement.