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REPORT: Justice Department finds civil rights violations by Phoenix Police Department and city of Phoenix

Photo of Phoenix Police
The Justice Department opened this investigation on Aug. 5, 2021. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Justice: Phoenix police ‘engage in a pattern or practice of conduct’ in violation of Constitution
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

The United States Justice Department is reporting the Phoenix Police Department and the city of Phoenix engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

In a press release, and subsequent press conference earlier today, announced these findings:

  • The Justice Department reports the Phoenix Police uses excessive force, including unjustified deadly force and other types of force.
  • The Justice Department reports Phoenix Police and the city unlawfully detain, cite, and arrest people experiencing homelessness and unlawfully dispose of their belongings. This is the first time the Justice Department has found a pattern or practice of conduct that focuses on the rights of people experiencing homelessness.
  • The Justice Department reports Phoenix Police discriminates against Black, Hispanic, and Native American people when enforcing the law.
  • The Justice Department reports Phoenix police violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech and expression.
  • The Justice Department reports Phoenix police and the city discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities when dispatching calls for assistance and responding to people in crisis.

Justice Department officials announced publicly today concerns about Phoenix Police Department’s treatment of children.

Furthermore, the Justice Department publicly announced identified deficiencies in policy, training, supervision, and accountability that contribute to the unlawful conduct of the municipality, the Justice Department reports.

“The Justice Department has concluded there is reasonable cause to believe that the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives its residents and visitors, including Black, Hispanic, and Native American people, of their rights under the Constitution and federal law,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a prepared statement.

“The release of today’s findings report is an important step toward accountability and transparency, and we are committed to working with the City of Phoenix and Phoenix Police Department on meaningful reform that protects the civil rights and safety of Phoenix residents and strengthens police-community trust.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division echoed a similar sentiment.

“Phoenix residents deserve nothing less than fair, non-discriminatory, and constitutional policing,” she said in a prepared statement.

“Our comprehensive investigation revealed unlawful and unconstitutional practices in the Phoenix Police Department’s enforcement activities that impact some of Phoenix’s most vulnerable residents, including Black, Hispanic, and Native American people, homeless people, and those experiencing behavioral health crises. The police also used excessive force, delayed necessary medical aid, and infringed on the civil rights of those engaged in First Amendment-protected conduct, including demonstrations and protests. Our findings provide a blueprint and a roadmap that can help transform the police department, restore community trust and strengthen public safety efforts in one of America’s largest cities. We are committed to working collaboratively with the police department, city officials, and the public to institute reform and remedy the violations we identified in our investigation.”

Justice: Phoenix police ‘engage in a pattern or practice of conduct’ in violation of Constitution

The Justice Department opened this investigation on Aug. 5, 2021.

Career attorneys and staff in the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section conducted the investigation, Justice Department officials report.

The team conducted numerous onsite tours; interviewed PhxPD officers, supervisors, and command staff; spoke with city officials and employees; accompanied behavioral crisis responders, specialty squads that frequently interacted with unhoused people, and officers on ride-alongs; reviewed thousands of documents; and reviewed hundreds of hours of body-worn camera footage.

As it does in every case, the division met regularly throughout the investigation with the city and Phoenix police officials to provide feedback on the observations of the department and its policing experts and on reforms to address the issues observed. Multiple subject-matter experts advised the division on the investigation. Collectively, these experts have decades of experience in assessing police tactics and training, internal investigations, 911 call-taking and dispatch, and statistical analyses. Department attorneys and staff also met with community members, advocates, service providers, and other stakeholders in the Phoenix area.

Consistent with its standard practice in investigations of other cities, the Justice Department provided a detailed briefing on the findings to the city and Phoenix police earlier today. Within are proposed that the parties agree in principle to negotiate expeditiously and in good faith to reach a comprehensive court-enforceable settlement with independent monitoring.

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