In a major shift from the Bush administration, President Obama’s Justice Department is aggressively investigating several big-city police departments for systematic civil rights abuses such as harassment of racial minorities, false arrests, and excessive use of force, reports Salon.com. Activists in several cities where the government has dispatched civil rights investigators welcomed the shift.
In the past few months, the Civil Rights Division has announced “pattern and practice” investigations in Newark and Seattle. It’s conducting a preliminary investigation of the Denver Police Department, and is ina high-profile push to reform the notorious New Orleans Police Department — as well as criminal prosecutions of several New Orleans officers. The “pattern and practice” authority comes from a 1994 law after the brutal beating of Rodney King by white Los Angeles police officers, who allegedly yelled racial slurs as they hit him. The law allows the feds to sue police departments if there is a pattern of violations of citizens’ constitutional rights like excessive use of force, discrimination, and illegal searches. Often, after an investigation, a police department will enter into a voluntary reform agreement to avoid a lawsuit and the imposition of reforms.