Following the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., a number of reports of police misconduct in the St. Louis suburb began to surface. Now, the Justice Department will launch a civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department as a whole, according to federal law enforcement officials.
The Washington Post reports:
The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County. Some, like Ferguson, are predominantly white departments serving majority-African-American communities, and at least one department invited the Justice Department to look at its practices. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending inquiry.
The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated Brown's civil rights. The new probe will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.
The Ferguson Police Department is already facing a number of lawsuits alleging police misconduct, unnecessary use of force (sometimes on children) and mistreatment of mentally ill people. A 2013 report by the state's attorney general's office found that Ferguson police stopped and arrested black drivers twice as often as white drivers but found illegal goods in the car much less often among the black drivers.
According to Politico, this undertaking is not unusual for the Justice Department's civil rights division. In fact, the department says that it has opened more than two times as many investigations into police departments in the last five years under Attorney General Eric Holder compared with the five years before that. At least 34 police departments are currently being probed for civil rights violations.
"I've literally had to pull my staff from Jefferson City and put them in Ferguson because of the number of people who are saying they've had past issues with the police," said state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D) in an interview with the Post. "Because of the Michael Brown situation, I have been getting other e-mails and phone calls and tweets about other individuals who have allegations of police brutality. The expansion of an investigation is by all means a great thing."