The Obama administration is stepping up civil rights enforcement against local police nationwide, opening, investigations to determine whether officers are guilty of brutality or discrimination against minorities. the Washington Post reports. In recent months, the Justice Department has begun inquiries into major city police departments like Portland, Or., where officers shot several people who had mental health issues, and Seattle, where police were accused of gunning down a homeless Native American woodcarver. The department issued a scathing report this month accusing Puerto Rico police of a “staggering level of crime and corruption.''
Justice's Civil Rights Division is conducting 17 probes of police and sheriff departments — the largest number in its 54-year history. The investigations are civil, meaning they will not lead to criminal charges, but can result in court-enforced reforms. The effort has won praise from advocacy groups and experts on police brutality. “This is long overdue,'' said Deborah Vagins of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The Bush administration beyond dropped the ball. These are some of the most egregious situations, places where we have killings committed by officers.''