Justice Dept. launches investigation of Baltimore police

Justice Department Launches Investigation Into Baltimore Police

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department will conduct a broad investigation into the Baltimore police force to identify law enforcement practices that are unconstitutional and violate civil rights, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday.

Lynch visited the city and met with city and community leaders earlier this week, in the aftermath of riots and unrest. Her announcement fulfills a request from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who initially appeared determined to fix the city's problems on her own, but then requested a Justice Department investigation.

Soured relations between the police and the communities they serve is "one of the most challenging issues of our time," Lynch said in announcing the investigation, adding that there has been "a serious erosion of public trust."

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Baltimore, Officers charged in death of Freddie Gray
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Justice Dept. launches investigation of Baltimore police
BALTIMORE, MD- SEPTEMBER 02: Several protesters march and rally in downtown Baltimore. Some even blocked intersections impeding traffic. Today is the first hearing for six Baltimore police officers charged in the death Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland on September 02, 2015. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD- SEPTEMBER 02: Several protesters march and rally in downtown Baltimore. Some even blocked intersections impeding traffic. Today is the first hearing for six Baltimore police officers charged in the death Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland on September 02, 2015. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 02: City Sheriff's deputies form a perimeter around State's Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby (C) as she leaves the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse East where pre-trial hearings were held for six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray September 2, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Earlier this year Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody and later died. His funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD- SEPTEMBER 02: Kwame Rose is arrested after he and several other protesters blocked various intersections in downtown Baltimore. The first hearing for six Baltimore police officers charged in the death Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland on September 02, 2015. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 02: A small and peaceful group of demonstrators gather to protest in front of the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse East where pre-trial hearings will be held for six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray September 2, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Earlier this year Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody and later died. His funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 02: A Baltimore City Sheriff's deputy moves among a small crowd of peaceful demonstrators in front of the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse East where pre-trial hearings will be held for six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray September 2, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Earlier this year Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody and later died. His funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 02: A small and peacful group of demonstrators gather to protest in front of the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse East where pre-trial hearings will be held for six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray September 2, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Earlier this year Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody and later died. His funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 01: Protesters march through the streets in support of Maryland state attorney Marilyn Mosby's announcement that charges would be filed against Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray died in police custody after being arrested on April 12, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 01: Protesters march through the streets in support of Maryland state attorney Marilyn Mosby's announcement that charges would be filed against Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray died in police custody after being arrested on April 12, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 01: Protesters march on North Avenue after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City state's attorney, ruled the death of Freddie Gray a homicide and that criminal charges will be filed. Gray, 25, was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife April 12 outside the Gilmor Houses housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 02: A man tears up on the street at North Ave., and Pennsylvania Ave., in West Baltimore a day after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray, May 2, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City state's attorney, ruled the death of Freddie Gray a homicide and that criminal charges would be filed against six Baltimore City Police officers. Gray, 25, was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife on April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 02: People participate in a dance party on North Ave., a day after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray, May 2, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City state's attorney, ruled the death of Freddie Gray a homicide and that criminal charges would be filed against six Baltimore City Police officers. Gray, 25, was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife on April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 02: People participate in a dance party on North Ave., on the street a day after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray, May 2, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City state's attorney, ruled the death of Freddie Gray a homicide and that criminal charges would be filed against six Baltimore City Police officers. Gray, 25, was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife on April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 02: Protesters march on the street from City Hall a day after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray, May 2, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City state's attorney, ruled the death of Freddie Gray a homicide and that criminal charges would be filed against six Baltimore City Police officers. Gray, 25, was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife on April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 01: Protesters march through the streets in support of Maryland state attorney Marilyn Mosby's announcement that charges would be filed against Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray died in police custody after being arrested on April 12, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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The investigation, similar to ones undertaken in cities across the country such as Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, Ohio, will look for trends of unconstitutional policing practices within the city, such as patterns in the use of deadly force or improper stops and searches.

Federal authorities already were conducting a second, separate investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died last month after suffering grave injuries while in police custody. The death set off chaos in the city, and Baltimore's top prosecutor has brought charges against six police officers.

"Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need - including training, policy guidance and equipment - to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety," Lynch said.

Baltimore officials last fall began participating in a voluntary and collaborative Justice Department review. But some officials, including in Congress, were skeptical that such a review could result in needed changes and asked for a broader civil rights investigation.

Baltimore suffered days of unrest after Gray died April 19 following a week in a coma after his arrest. Protesters threw bottles and bricks at police the night of his funeral on April 27, injuring nearly 100 officers. More than 200 people were arrested as cars and businesses burned.

The Justice Department has undertaken several dozen similar investigations since being granted the authority do so by Congress in 1994. In some cases, such as in Ferguson, the federal government initiated the process on its own; in others, including Albuquerque's, city officials made the request.

Baltimore City Council President Jack Young called the decision "a watershed moment" for the city.

Young had been pushing for such an investigation. He said that a voluntary, collaborative, civil rights review the city and Justice Department launched in October lacked tough enforcement provisions.

"I am reminded of the many men and women, young and old, who have suffered injustice at the hands of a minority of persistently rogue officers over many generations. This federal civil rights probe should serve as a steppingstone toward justice for them and their families," Young said in a statement.

___

Associated Press writer David Dishneau in Baltimore contributed to this report.



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