The Justice Department is opening an investigation into the policing practices of the Phoenix Police Department and the city of Phoenix, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday afternoon.
The investigation will examine whether the Phoenix Police Department uses excessive force, whether it engages in discriminatory policing practices, whether the department violated the First Amendment by retaliating against protesters and whether the department discriminates against people with disabilities.
This is the third pattern or practice investigation the Justice Department has opened during the Biden administration. Earlier this year, the DOJ opened investigations into the Louisville Police Department and Minneapolis Police Department.
"Each time I have noted that these investigations are aimed to promote transparency and accountability," Garland said. "This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety."
Garland noted in his remarks that one important aspect of the investigation will be examining whether the Phoenix Police Department violated the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness by seizing or disposing of their belongings in a manner that violates the Constitution.
"Our society is straining the policing profession by turning to law enforcement to address a wide array of social problems," Garland said. "Too often we ask law enforcement officers to be the first and last option for addressing uses that should not be handled by our criminal justice system. This makes police officers' jobs more difficult, increases unnecessary confrontations with law enforcement and hinders public safety."
The DOJ's civil rights chief Kristen Clarke said the investigation was opened after a review of court files, media reports and citizen complaints, but she declined to say whether there was any "final straw" that led to Thursday's formal announcement.
She said local officials in the city were contacted Thursday about the probe and the mayor and chief of police "pledged their full support."
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted out a statement Thursday, saying police reform has been a priority since she took office and she welcomes the review.
"The recommendations that will result from this review will assist in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city," it said.
Alex Stone reports for ABC Radio: