Department of Justice
The DOJ found, among other things, the Phoenix Police Department violates constitutional rights, particularly those of homeless, Hispanic and Black people. AFP

The U.S. Department of Justice found on Thursday that the Phoenix Police Department uses excessive force, violates constitutional rights, particularly those of homeless people, and discriminates against Black, Hispanic and Native American people.

The results came after a lengthy investigation, which found a "pattern" of violations by the police department, saying they frequently stop, detain and arrest homeless people without reasonable suspicion that they've committed any crime. The city and its police department also seize and destroy the property of homeless people without providing adequate notice of fair opportunity to collect their belongings, the DOJ said.

The DOJ also said certain laws, which include drug-related crimes and certain misdemeanors, have been applied with greater severity to Hispanic, Black and Native American people, also finding that the Police Department used "dangerous tactics that lead to unnecessary and unreasonable use of force."

The behavior violated the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, which protect free speech, prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures and guarantee equal protection under the law, according to Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. She recapped the Department's finding in the 126-page report.

"This finding is historic," Clarke said. "This marks the first time that the Justice Department has found violations of the civil and constitutional rights of people who are homeless."

She also highlighted that about 37% of the department's misdemeanor offenses were against unhoused individuals.

At the same time, she noted, officers are disproportionately targeting communities of color. For instance, Black drivers in Phoenix are 144 times more likely than white drivers to be arrested or cited for low-level moving violations, while Hispanic drivers are 40% more likely to be arrested or cited for the same thing.

Similarly, DOJ data shows that Phoenix cites and arrests Black people for marijuana possession at nearly seven times the rate of white people and Hispanic people more than three times the rate. Black, Hispanic and Native American people are disproportionately charged with pedestrian traffic violations and loitering, the Justice Department said.

These behaviors are applied to children of color as well, who are often treated the same as adults, according to the DOJ.

"Not only does such conduct harm children but it can contribute to fear and distrust of law enforcement by the next generation of Phoenix residents," Clarke said.

The police department referred requests for comment about the findings to the city. Then, Mayor Kate Gallego said the city had received the report at the same time as the public.

"The City Council will meet this month— in Executive Session on June 25— to receive legal advice, better understand the report, and discuss next steps," Gallego said in a statement. "I will carefully and thoroughly review the findings before making further comments."

Clarke said the DOJ will work with the city to find solutions. She stopped short of saying the department would be out under a consent decree, which typically is used to create and enforce changes within a local or state governmental agency when evidence of misconduct is found, according to NBC News.

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