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Justice Department announces probe into Phoenix Police Department

The Justice Department on Thursday announced it would launch an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department including its use of force and treatment of the homeless. File Pool photo by Samuel Corum/UPI
The Justice Department on Thursday announced it would launch an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department including its use of force and treatment of the homeless. File Pool photo by Samuel Corum/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced it will conduct an investigation into the city of Phoenix and its police department.

In a statement, the department said the probe would examine the use of force, including deadly force by Phoenix Police Department officers, whether the department retaliates against people for exercising their First Amendment rights or engages in discriminatory policing as well as whether it unlawfully seizes or disposes of belongings of homeless individuals and its practices for responding to people with disabilities.

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During a news conference Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said the department had found "evidence here warrants a full investigation" into the city's policing practices."

"We have reviewed court files, media reports, citizen complaints and we also considered factors that we ordinarily weigh in determining whether to open an investigation, including the nature and seriousness of the allegations, the number of allegations, the steps that a department may be taking to address the allegations and the history of the department," Clarke said.

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The Justice Department added the so-called "pattern or practice" investigation is being conducted under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and local law enforcement from depriving individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law.

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The city of Phoenix last approved a budget including $15 million to expand a pilot program to eliminate the role of police officers responding to 911 calls involving mental health, homelessness or substance abuse, CNN reported.

The probe comes as a nationwide eviction moratorium expired over the weekend and the Centers for Disease Control announced a targeted moratorium for counties experiencing "substantial and high" levels of community transmission of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

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Attorney General Merrick Garland noted the increase in attention to the "impending risk of mass evictions," saying it would have "serious implications -- adding to a crisis of homelessness that strains but cannot be solved by the criminal justice system."

"Needless to say the impact on individuals and families would be devastating," he said. "And as the CDC has made clear, the impact on public health would likewise be devastating, fueling the spread of COVID-19 infections in the affected communities."

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, issued a statement welcoming the Justice Department's investigation.

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"Comprehensive reform of policing in the City of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office," 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."

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The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union representing officers on the city's police force, said Thursday it stands by its members and would fully cooperate with the investigation.

"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," said the association's president, Michael "Britt" London.

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