The Justice Department has launched a broad civil-rights investigation into the practices of the Phoenix Police Department, including whether officers routinely violate the rights of homeless people in the Arizona capital, reports the Wall Street Journal.
But the announcement Thursday by Attorney General Merrick Garland fueled immediate skepticism from local groups who said the probe was unlikely to achieve anything without a serious commitment to police reform.
“Without significant action by Mayor (Kate) Gallego and City Council to remedy these issues, the lasting legacy of the DOJ investigation will likely be another failed attempt to reign in the Phoenix Police Department, this time with a multi-million dollar price tag,” the activist group Poder in Action said.
The probe will examine whether officers engage in patterns of unconstitutional policing, including whether they discriminate against minorities and people with disabilities, use excessive force and violate the First Amendment rights of law-abiding demonstrators.
Investigators will also seek to establish whether police violate the constitutional rights of homeless people by seizing and disposing of their belongings.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division opened its investigation after a review of court files, media reports, citizen complaints and allegations against some of the police department’s roughly 3,000 officers. Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said the department welcomed the probe.
But the activists who have been pushing for more police accountability and stripping the Police Department of funding are less hopeful of what the investigation will bring. They are already well aware of the department’s problems — they want solutions, they said.
Williams said that the only solution he sees is defunding the police department.
“We are done with reform measures,” he said. “If all the DOJ can promise is reform, we will be unsatisfied.”
Poder in Action said DOJ “pattern or practice” investigations “have a long history of being extremely costly to taxpayers, while increasing funding to police departments, recycling ineffective police reforms, and failing to end the killing of Black, Brown, Indigenous, poor, disabled, unsheltered and LGBTQ+ people.”