November 28, 2023

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a state investigation into the city of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department during a press conference at the Justice Department on August 5, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the practices of the Phoenix Police Department, including the use of lethal force by its officers, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday.

The investigation into the Arizona capital and its law enforcement agency, Garland said, will also investigate whether the police there are breaking the constitution by engaging in discriminatory police practices or taking revenge against people for acts protected by the First Amendment, such as protests.

The Justice Department also wants to see how Phoenix Police are responding to the homeless or disabled, Garland said.

These two areas in particular “address an important issue that is broader” than the Phoenix Inquiry, Garland said, referring to the problem that society is overly dependent on the police to address all kinds of social ills.

“Too often we ask law enforcement officers to be the first and last option to address issues that shouldn’t be addressed by our criminal justice system,” he said. “This complicates the work of police officers, increases unnecessary confrontations with law enforcement agencies and hinders public safety.”

CNBC policy

Read more about CNBC’s political coverage:

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Police Chief Jeri Williams have both pledged their support for the investigation, the attorney general said.

The frequency of police shootings in Arizona is well documented. For example, a research by the Republic of Arizona found that an officer in the state aims a gun and shoots someone an average of every five days.

Another investigation earlier this year concluded that Arizona was number one in shootings by U.S. Marshal forces across the country.

The “Pattern or Practice” investigation is the third Garland has announced since his Justice Department restored a key police mechanism restricted by the Trump administration.

Garland announced the first two such probes in April. An investigation by the Minneapolis, Minnesota police came the day after former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Chauvin’s custody.

Days later, Garland revealed another investigation by the Louisville, Kentucky police force that came under fire last year after their officers killed 26-year-old black woman Breonna Taylor after entering her home without a warrant.