Story at a glance

  • A pattern or practice investigation is being launched by the Department of Justice into the practices and culture of the Louisville Police Department.
  • Last year, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was shot and killed during a police raid in Louisville, inciting anger and calls for reform.
  • This is the second investigation launched by DOJ into civil rights abuses by police in the past week, after a similar one was announced for Minneapolis.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced yesterday that the Department of Justice intends to launch a sweeping investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department. The news arrives on the heels of a guilty verdict handed to former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found responsible for the death of a Black man, George Floyd. 

Floyd’s death amongst others, especially men of color, at the hands of police officers inspired the opening of a pattern or practice investigation into the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department less than a week ago.

The investigation by the Department of Justice will assess all types of force used by MPD officers, including uses of force involving individuals with behavioral health disabilities and uses of force against individuals engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment.

The pattern or practice investigation in Louisville seeks to assess the same, following the high profile death of a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her home by Louisville police officers last year. Following her death, the city settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Taylor's family in September for $12 million. The settlement included a series of police reforms, and Louisville had earlier also banned no-knock warrants.

Garland announced on Monday that the Justice Department will look into whether city police officers have a pattern of civil rights violations and whether the force “engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force, including with respect to people involved in peaceful expressive activities.”

Garland added that the inquiry will also determine if the police department “engages in unconstitutional stops, searches, and seizures, as well as whether the department unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes” and if officers discriminate in their policing “on the basis of race.”

What if a pattern or practice of misconduct is found?

If prosecutors in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division determine there is a pattern or practice of misconduct, they will issue a public report of their findings and insist on reforming the police department, according to Garland’s statements on Monday.

“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.

According to the DOJ, its Civil Rights Division has launched pattern or practice investigations into departments across the country, whether the department is as small as six officers or as large as 17,000. The first step in this specific investigation type involves independent investigation that assesses whether any systemic deficiencies contribute to misconduct. 

At the conclusion of an investigation, the division issues a public report detailing the findings. If the division has determined patterns or practices of misconduct, they will articulate them and work alongside the department, with input from community stakeholders, as the department remedies the identified problematic patterns or behavior. These agreements are called consent decrees. If the police department in question refuses or is unable to reach a reform agreement, the DOJ then has authority to initiate a lawsuit to secure those reforms.

The Justice Department has 12 active consent decrees with police departments across the country, as well as four other agreements that were reached out of court.

The reintroduction of pattern or practice

The probe in Louisville is the fifth publicly confirmed pattern or practice investigation pending by the Civil Rights Divisions' Special Litigation Section. They’re a type of investigation that was not only scaled back by the Justice Department under the Trump administration, but new restrictions were also put into place regarding the tools that attorneys had to enter long-term settlements with police departments.

Last year, President Biden campaigned on the revival of such investigations, as they are considered powerful tools for police reform. Garland’s back-to-back announcements of the investigations placed upon Minneapolis and Louisville signal a renewed focus on the practices and standards within the country’s local law enforcement departments. 

“Justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive and sometimes never comes,” Garland said during his announcement of the Mineappolis probe last week. “The DOJ will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under the law.”


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Published on Apr 27, 2021