Justice Department Announces Sweeping Probe Into Phoenix Police

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced an investigation into whether the Arizona city and its police department have violated civil rights laws.
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a meeting with various law enforcement leadership in Chicago. He announced this week that the Justice Department has opened an investigation to determine whether the city of Phoenix or the Phoenix Police Department have violated civil rights laws.
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a meeting with various law enforcement leadership in Chicago. He announced this week that the Justice Department has opened an investigation to determine whether the city of Phoenix or the Phoenix Police Department have violated civil rights laws.
SAMUEL CORUM via Getty Images

The Justice Department has opened an investigation to determine whether the city of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department have violated civil rights laws, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday.

As part of the probe ― known as a pattern-or-practice investigation ― investigators will look at the types of force used by Phoenix police officers, as well as whether the department has violated the rights of citizens.

The probe includes determining if officers use excessive force, engage in retaliatory behavior against people expressing their First Amendment rights, or unlawfully seize belongings of the homeless. It will also assess practices for responding to people with disabilities.

“The investigation will include a comprehensive review of PhxPD policies, training, supervision, and force investigations, as well as PhxPD’s systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition, and discipline,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The Justice Department also announced it will reach out to community groups and members of the public to hear about their experiences with the Phoenix Police Department.

Phoenix police must now track every time they point guns at people. The change came after a 2019 incident in which an officer was caught on video pointing his gun at a Black family after the couple’s 4-year-old daughter walked out of a store with a doll that hadn’t been paid for.

“I’m gonna put a cap right in your fucking head,” the officer could be heard saying on the video.

The city of Phoenix later paid the family $475,000 in a settlement.

A report also found that Phoenix police were involved in a record-breaking 44 shootings in 2018.

Pattern-or-practice investigations into police departments all but ended under former President Donald Trump, as his administration argued in part that revealing patterns of misconduct in police departments hurts officer morale. President Joe Biden’s administration has brought them back. It recently announced an investigation in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, was killed in her own home by police. Another has been opened in Minneapolis, where Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, murdered George Floyd, a Black man.