The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced on Thursday (Aug. 5) it’s launching an investigation into the city of Phoenix’s policing practices with a focus on how it treats residents experiencing homelessness.
Kristen Clarke, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said during a news conference the specific reasons the DOJ is looking into the city’s policing.
“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,” she said. “We found that the evidence here warrants a full investigation, but we approach this process with no predispositions or pre-drawn conclusions.”
That same day, Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego said she welcomes the federal government’s investigation, noting in a statement that “comprehensive reform of policing in the city of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office” and “the recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city.”
Additionally, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that accountability to the public is key.
“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,” he said. “This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.”
The department’s focus on officers’ conduct toward people experiencing homelessness is the first time it has specifically focused on the constitutional rights of this community during one of its pattern and practice investigations of local police forces. The newly announced probe also represents a warning for cities around the country where police sweeps of homeless communities have become a common response to the growth of tent cities in public spaces.
“In addition, the investigation will assess the city and Phoenix’s Police Department’s systems and practices for responding to people with disabilities,” a news release states. “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,” according to the news release.
The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association said on Thursday that it stands by the members of its department it represents and plans to 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,” Michael “Britt” London, the association’s president, said in a statement, according to CNN.