The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday it is launching a civil rights investigation of the large city of Phoenix, Arizona, and its police department to assess whether police use excessive force or target specific groups of people for arrests.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the probe would attempt to determine whether Phoenix police discriminate against people with disabilities or the homeless in the way they are treated. The investigation is starting after complaints about policing in the city.
Too often, he said, unprepared police in the U.S. are called on to deal with people with mental health issues best left for specially trained social service and health workers.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the Justice Department would conduct a “pattern and practice” investigation of Phoenix police and its operations, looking at their training, how individual calls for police help are handled and whether some groups of people they interact with are unfairly discriminated against.
She said that among other things, Justice investigators would look into whether demonstrators exercising their free speech rights are dealt with unfairly and whether homeless people’s belongings have been illegally taken and disposed of.