The Justice Department’s misconduct investigation of the Phoenix Police Department is growing increasingly contentious after nearly 2½ years, City officials say they are unwilling to cede control to federal authorities. Phoenix officials have decried Justice investigators as uncollaborative and mounted a campaign to counter the department’s findings before a federal report is released, reports the Washington Post. The 2,600-officer police force has been ranked among the nation's most violent, leading the U.S. with 23 fatal police shootings in 2018. Its officers faced sanctions for using excessive force and false charges against protesters in 2020 social justice demonstrations.
City leaders acknowledge some misconduct by officers, but they argue it does not constitute a systemic pattern of unconstitutional policing. They point to recent changes, including a new use-of-force policy, additional officer training and a city oversight office to monitor internal police misconduct investigations. Attorney General Merrick Garland launched the “pattern or practice” probe in August 2021, as the Biden administration sought greater law enforcement accountability after the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville led to a national outcry in 2020. Since then, leaders in Minneapolis and Louisville accepted reports of systemic misconduct and agreed to negotiate a plan for federal oversight expected to last years. They are the only two of DOJ’s 11 police misconduct investigations started under Garland that have been completed. In a letter to DOJ on Thursday, Phoenix officials said federal investigators have denied requests from city leaders to review a draft of the report and warned that the “heavy hand of federal oversight … is not the appropriate remedy.”