The Justice Department on Thursday announced a sweeping civil rights investigation into the Phoenix police department’s use of force and its policies on dealing with homeless residents — the third federal probe of a local law enforcement agency launched since President Biden took office.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the pattern and practice investigation will seek to determine whether the Phoenix police engaged in excessive force or discriminatory behavior. He emphasized that investigators also will examine how the police department has treated residents with mental and physical disabilities and whether the agency unlawfully has disposed of the belongings of homeless residents — an issue that Garland did not mention when he began police investigations in Minneapolis and Louisville this spring.
At Thursday’s announcement, Garland waded into the heated debate over whether to continue an eviction moratorium as the coronavirus delta variant fuels a new wave of infections across the country. Biden this week said he would continue the ban in most places, amid pressure from his party’s left flank. Yet he also acknowledged that such a move might not prove to be constitutional.
“Millions of tenants are at risk of losing shelter,” Garland said. “The impact on families would be devastating. The impact on public health likewise would be devastating.”
He warned that the specter of mass evictions of tenants unable to pay rent could also lead to greater burdens on police departments. “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 said they welcomed the federal intervention.
“The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city,” Mayor Kate Gallego (D) said in a statement.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, David Nakamura