Justice Department investigating Phoenix police practices, including use of deadly force, in civil rights probe

Key Points
  • The Department of Justice opened a civil rights investigation into the practices of the Phoenix police department, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced.
  • The probe will look at the use of deadly force by Phoenix officers, as well as whether they engage in discriminatory policing practices, among other issues.
  • Garland previously announced investigations into police departments in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Louisville, Kentucky.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a federal investigation of the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department during a news conference at the Department of Justice on August 05, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

The Department of Justice opened a civil rights investigation into the practices of the Phoenix Police Department, including the use of deadly force by its officers, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday.

The probe of Arizona's capital city and its police department, Garland said, will also look at whether cops there violate the Constitution by engaging in discriminatory policing practices or retaliating against people for actions protected by the First Amendment, such as protesting.

The Justice Department also wants to determine how Phoenix police respond to people who are homeless or have disabilities, Garland said.

Those two areas in particular "speak to an important issue that is broader" than the Phoenix probe, Garland said, referring to society becoming overly reliant on police to address all manner of social ills.

"Too often, we ask law enforcement officers to be the first and last option to address issues that should not be handled by our criminal justice system," he said. "This makes police officers' jobs more difficult, increases unnecessary confrontation with law enforcement and hinders public safety."

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Police Chief Jeri Williams have both pledged their support for the probe, the attorney general said.

The frequency of police shootings in Arizona has been well documented. An Arizona Republic investigation, for instance, found that an officer in the state aims a gun and shoots at someone every five days on average.

Earlier this year, another investigation concluded that Arizona ranks highest in the nation for shootings by U.S. Marshal task forces.

The "pattern or practice" investigation is the third Garland has announced since his Justice Department restored a key mechanism for policing the police that had been curtailed by the Trump administration.

Garland announced the first two such probes in April. An investigation into the Minneapolis, Minnesota, police department came one day after former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Chauvin's custody.

Days later, Garland unveiled another probe, into the Louisville, Kentucky, police department, which came under fire last year after its officers killed 26-year-old Black woman Breonna Taylor after entering her apartment with a no-knock warrant.