WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department launched a broad investigation Thursday into the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting last month of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer.
The investigation, which is separate from an existing federal probe into the Aug. 9 shooting of Michel Brown, will look for patterns of discrimination within the predominantly white department and focus on how officers use force, search and arrest suspects, and treat inmates at the city jail. The police department said it welcomed the investigation.
In announcing the action, Attorney General Eric Holder, who visited the St. Louis suburb two weeks ago, said he heard repeated concerns from community members about general police practices and a lack of diversity on the police force. That experience influenced the decision to seek a wide-ranging probe into the department, he said.
"I heard from them directly about the deep mistrust that has taken hold between law enforcement officials and members of the community," Holder said, adding that other evidence that's emerged so far — including data about traffic stops — appeared to validate community concerns.
The inquiry is part of a broader Justice Department effort to investigate troubled police departments and, when pervasive problems are found, direct changes to be made. The department says it has investigated 20 police departments for a variety of systemic misconduct in the past five years, more than twice the number of cases opened in the previous five years.
Besides the investigation into the Ferguson police force, the Justice Department says it will also work with the St. Louis County police department, which trains officers from Ferguson and other local departments, to review its use of force, the handling of mass demonstrations and other aspects of policing. At the request of the county police department, federal authorities will conduct a report on the department's response to the two weeks of sometimes violent demonstrations that followed the shooting.
The police response — which included the use of tear gas and armored vehicles — drew broad concern, including from members of Congress and from Holder, who said the deployment of military-style equipment sent a conflicting message.
Police have said the shooting came after a scuffle that broke out after Officer Darren Wilson told Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a sidewalk. Police say Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown's arms in the air before the shooting in an act of surrender. An autopsy paid for by Brown's family concluded that he was shot six times, twice in the head.
Soon after, the Justice Department began an investigation into the shooting and a local grand jury started evaluating the case.
The investigation announced Thursday will go far beyond the shooting, focusing on the actions of a police department that is predominantly white, even though Ferguson is about 70 percent black.
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