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Phoenix police discriminate, violate civil rights and use excessive force, Justice Department says

DOJ launches probe into Phoenix Police
Justice Department opens investigation into Phoenix policing practices over use of force allegations 02:53

Phoenix police violate people's rights, discriminate against Black, Hispanic and Native American people when enforcing the law and use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

The government found a "pattern or practice" of the violations, saying the police department unlawfully detains homeless people and disposes of their belongings and discriminates against people with behavioral health disabilities when dispatching calls for help and responding to people who are in crisis. And the Justice Department said Phoenix police had violated the rights of people engaged in protected speech.

The sweeping investigation — which CBS' Phoenix affiliate KPHO-TV reports cost the city at least $7.5 million — found "pervasive failings" that have "disguised and perpetuated" problems for years, according to the report.

The Justice Department said certain laws, including drug and low-level offenses, were enforced more severely by Phoenix officers against Black, Hispanic and Native American people than against whites who engaged in the same conduct.

Investigators found Phoenix police use on "dangerous tactics that lead to force that is unnecessary and unreasonable."

"Our investigation also raised serious concerns about PhxPD's treatment of children and the lasting impact aggressive police encounters have on their wellbeing," read another part of the report, according to KPHO-TV. 

Phoenix police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorney General Merrick Garland called the release of the report "an important step toward accountability and transparency."

"We are committed to working with the City of Phoenix and Phoenix Police Department on meaningful reform that protects the civil rights and safety of Phoenix residents and strengthens police-community trust," he said in a statement.

 Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said the findings "provide a blueprint and a roadmap that can help transform the police department, restore community trust and strengthen public safety efforts in one of America's largest cities."

The investigation launched in August 2021. The police force in Phoenix has been criticized in recent years for its treatment of protesters in 2020, deaths of people who were restrained by officers, and a high number of shootings by officers.

The report also found that Phoenix police detain and arrest people who are homeless without reasonable suspicion that they committed a crime, and unlawfully dispose of their belongings.

"A person's constitutional rights do not diminish when they lack shelter," the report says.

The Justice Department zeroed on the city's 911 operations. Even though the city has invested $15 million to send non-police responders to mental health calls, the city hasn't given the 911 call-takers and dispatchers necessary training.

"Too frequently, they dispatch police alone when it would be appropriate to send behavioral health responders," the Justice Department said. Officers assume people with disabilities are dangerous and resort to force rather than de-escalation tactics, leading to force and criminal consequences for those with behavioral health disabilities, rather than finding them care, the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department found that police use unjustified force against people who are handcuffed and accused of low-level crimes.

"Officers rely on less-lethal force to attempt to resolve situations quickly, often when no force is necessary and without any meaningful attempt to de-escalate," the report said.

Police shoot projectiles at people without evidence the person is an immediate threat, the report said, citing the case of a man who was accused of taking his mother's car without permission.

"The man was leaving a laundromat when an officer immediately fired Pepperballs at him, and continued to fire after the man was on his knees and had curled his body onto the sidewalk," the report said.

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