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Justice Department to investigate Baltimore police force

Last Updated May 8, 2015 10:29 AM EDT

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is opening a Justice Department review of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a spinal injury and later died in police custody.

"Rather than examining whether the police department violated good policies, we will examine if they violated the constitution and the community's civil rights," Lynch said Friday at a press conference announcing the civil pattern of practice investigation.

Justice Department investigators "will seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by officers," according to a press release. The probe will focus on the police use of force, including deadly force. The Justice Department will also review BPD's stops, searches and arrests, as well as whether there is a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing.

In one of her first acts at the Justice Department, the newly installed attorney general paid a visit to Baltimore, meeting with city officials and members of Congress.

"If unconstitutional policies or practices are found we will seek a court enforceable agreement to address the issues, and we will move forward to improve policing in Baltimore even as the pattern of practice investigation is underway," Lynch told reporters. "Our goal is to work with the community, public officials, and law enforcement to create a stronger, better Baltimore."

The attorney general cautioned, however, that the Justice Department cannot "be the hand reaching into every police department."

"The reality is we cannot litigate ourselves out of this problem," Lynch said. "It is not the intention of the department to engage in an investigation or review of every police department across the country."

After Freddie Gray's death, protests and violent riots rocked Baltimore. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in the city, imposing a curfew and sending in National Guard troops to quell the protests.

Last week, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced homicide charges for the six police officers involved in Freddie Gray's death. The officers were then put under arrest and taken to jail, though they posted bail later that evening. The DOJ is also conducting a concurrent civil rights investigation into Freddie Gray's death.

The Justice Department has recently ramped up its investigations into local law enforcement agencies, after the shootings of unarmed black men by officers sparked protests around the country. The Baltimore review follows probes into the police forces of cities like Ferguson and Cleveland. In Ferguson, then-Attorney General Eric Holder led his department in conducting a civil rights investigation. The report found the black population was routinely disproportionately subjected to excessive police force, baseless traffic stops and citations for infractions such as walking down the middle of the street.