The DOJ is launching an investigation into how Phoenix police are dealing with town’s homeless residents
“We reviewed court records, media reports, citizen complaints, and also considered factors we would normally weigh in deciding whether to open an investigation, including the nature and gravity of the allegations, the number of allegations and the steps a department might take can take steps to address the allegations and the department’s history, “said Kristen Clarke, the DOJ’s civil rights director, during a press conference.
She continued, “We have determined that the evidence here warrants a full investigation, but we are approaching this process with no judgment or premature conclusion.”
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said Thursday she welcomed the government’s investigation, stating in a statement that “comprehensive police reform in Phoenix city has been my priority since the first day I took office”.
Gallego, a Democrat, pledged to support the investigation, adding that “the recommendations that emerge from this review will help us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, and fairer city.”
The Justice Department’s investigation will investigate illegal seizures or disposal of property of people affected by homelessness, according to a press release. Investigators will also determine if Phoenix officers participated in a pattern of deadly violence, retaliation against individuals for conduct protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and discriminatory policing.
The department’s focus on officers’ behavior towards people affected by homelessness is the first time the department has specifically focused on the constitutional rights of that community during one of its so-called pattern and practice investigations against local police forces, according to one official of the DOJ, who pointed out the fourth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution.
Inclusion in the newly announced probe is a Clear warning to cities across the country where police raids on homeless communities have become a common response to the growth of tent cities in public spaces.
Garland stated during Thursday’s press conference that the recent expiration of the eviction moratorium imposed during Covid-19 would also “have serious law enforcement implications that would add to a homelessness crisis that weighs on the criminal justice system but cannot be resolved” . . ”
“In addition, the investigation will evaluate the systems and practices used by the Phoenix city and police force in responding to people with disabilities. The investigation will include a full review of PhxPD’s policies, training, oversight and investigation of violence, and PhxPD’s accountability systems, including the inclusion of misconduct complaints, investigation, review, injunction and discipline, “the press release said .
As part of this investigation, the Department of Justice will be reaching out to community groups and members of the public for their experiences with the Phoenix Police Department.
This is the third model or practice investigation launched since Garland was sworn in as Attorney General earlier this year. There are a total of six open sample or practice exams in cities like Louisville and Minneapolis. CNN reported in June that the city of Phoenix is expanding a pilot program aimed at minimizing or eliminating the role of police officers responding to emergency calls regarding mental health, homelessness, or substance abuse. The city approved a $ 15 million budget to expand the program, which is largely supported by volunteers and grants.
This story was updated with additional details on Thursday.
CNN’s Peter Nickeas and Evan Perez contributed to this report.