WASHINGTON – A federal investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department – announced Thursday by Attorney General Eric Holder – will examine whether officers have routinely engaged in racial profiling or a pattern of using excessive force.
Holder said the Justice Department will also conduct an intensive review of racial profiling, stops, searches, frisking and the handling of mass demonstrations by police officers in the St. Louis County Police Department, which voluntarily agreed to the review.
Anecdotal accounts underscore the history of mistrust of law enforcement in Ferguson, Holder said. As a result of this history, and following an extensive review of documented allegations and other available data, we have determined that there is cause for the Justice Department to open an investigation.
Holder’s announcement came less than a month after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer who has claimed he acted in self-defense.
The broad federal probe is in addition to separate investigations already launched by the FBI, county police and a grand jury into the shooting of Brown.
The Justice Department will also enter into a collaborative reform effort with the St. Louis County Police Department, which trains officers in Ferguson and other agencies in the St. Louis area, including the highway patrol.
The county review will include technical assistance from the Justice Department.
Because St. Louis County administers training programs for officers throughout the area, including members of the Ferguson Police Department, it makes sense to include the county police department as part of our comprehensive approach, Holder said.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was the first agency to participate in the collaborative reform process, which Justice started in 2011.
The department eventually adopted more than 75 recommendations regarding the use of force.
The Justice Department is also using this process to work with the Philadelphia and Spokane, Washington, police departments.
The Ferguson investigation will begin this week and be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
It will follow a process the division has used in probes of 20 other police departments across the country in response to civil rights complaints, more than twice as many as were opened in the previous five years.
Holder said the investigation will include a review of citizen complaints against officers and how those complaints were investigated by the department.
The probe will also examine the department’s record of traffic stops, searches and arrests, and its treatment of people detained in the city jail.
The investigation, which will likely take months to complete, will also assess the type of training officers receive on racial profiling and use of force, including deadly force.