The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will bring its hunt for racial bias to Louisville, Kentucky, which emerged as an epicenter of racial conflict over last year’s police shooting death of Breonna Taylor.
The announcement follows the Biden administration’s announcement that it will use its authority to probe for bias in the Minneapolis Police Department in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd last year while in police custody.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the Minneapolis investigation on Wednesday after former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in Floyd’s death, and the Louisville investigation in a news release Monday.
“The investigation will assess all types of force used by LMPD [Louisville Metro Police Department] officers, including use of force on individuals with behavioral health disabilities or individuals engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment,” Garland said in a statement.
“The investigation will assess whether LMPD engages in discriminatory policing, and also whether it conducts unreasonable stops, searches, seizures, and arrests, both during patrol activities and in obtaining and executing search warrants for private homes,” he said.
“The investigation will include a comprehensive review of LMPD policies, training, and supervision, as well as LMPD’s systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition, and discipline.”
The release said community groups will be contacted as part of the Justice Department’s hunt for bias.
“The Constitution and federal law require law enforcement officers to treat all people fairly and equitably, regardless of race, disability, or participation in protected First Amendment activities,” Pamela Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
“The investigation we are announcing today will examine whether these laws are being violated, while also analyzing the root causes of any violations we may find,” Karlan said.
In its waning years, the Obama administration began using the Department of Justice as a weapon to investigate police agencies accused of racial bias. That was interrupted during the Trump administration, but the two new investigations have signaled that the DOJ is now back in the business of scrutinizing local law enforcement.
“I don’t know whether the administration is intentionally trying to be dramatic in signaling that the Civil Rights Division is back in business by announcing these investigations so quickly after each other — but that’s certainly the message it sends,” said Christy Lopez, the Obama-era deputy chief of the Justice Department’s special litigation section, according to The Washington Post.
The federal government is already separately investigating Taylor’s death. This probe will look at the broader context of the LMPD’s record on race. Three officers were fired as a result of the Taylor shooting, and Louisville paid her family $12 million in a settlement.
“All of these steps will be taken with one goal in mind: to ensure that policing policies and practices are constitutional and lawful,” Garland said in announcing the probe. “That is the same goal as that of our investigation in Minneapolis and of every pattern-or-practice investigation that the department undertakes.”
He tried to allay fears the investigation was a one-dimensional witch hunt.
“We are uniquely aware of the challenges faced by those who serve as police officers. We see their commitment firsthand every day, and we recognize the complex issues that make their already difficult jobs even harder,” Garland said. “The Justice Department is also charged with ensuring that the constitutional and federal statutory rights of all people are protected.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Monday the investigation is a welcome step in his efforts to create “a higher level of police community legitimacy,” according to CNN.
“Thirteen months ago a horrible tragedy took place in our city with the killing of Breonna Taylor. Since then, Louisville and the entire country have been coming to a heightened reckoning with the need for police reform and racial justice,” the Democrat said.
Another Democrat, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, said he supports scrutiny of the Louisville police.
“Policing is almost a sacred responsibility, where we convey such power and authority on individuals to keep us safe,” Beshear said, according to CNN. “It means that with that power and authority, those individuals need to be making right and just decisions all the time. And because of that level of authority that we convey, we always need to be open about ensuring that we are doing things right.
“We’ve got to acknowledge when we have such a sacred responsibility that we’ve got to welcome scrutiny.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was not opposed to the investigation.
The Kentucky Republican said there had been “significant challenges” since Taylor’s death and it’s “not inappropriate for the Justice Department to take a look at it,” according to USA Today.
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