WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will launch a large-scale investigation into the practices and culture of the Minneapolis Police Department after one of its former officers was convicted in the killing of George Floyd, 86th Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday.
The probe comes alongside an ongoing federal civil rights investigation that was previously launched in May. On Tuesday, former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. The incident led to months of protest worldwide and reignited an international conversation surrounding police reform and the treatment of Black suspects.
“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Garland said.
The investigation will look beyond Chauvin’s actions as an individual and will focus broadly on the entire department, Garland said. The DOJ will examine whether there is a “pattern or practice” of unlawful or unconstitutional police practice. A similar investigation was conducted in Ferguson under Eric Holder’s Justice Department, which found that Ferguson Police targeted Black civilians through fines and traffic tickets.
The review of the Minneapolis Police Department could return sweeping changes in the department if the probe finds a culture of misconduct.
“The investigation will also assess whether the MPD engages in discriminatory conduct and whether its treatment of those with behavioral health disabilities is unlawful,” Garland said. “It will assess the effectiveness of the MPD’s current systems of accountability, and whether other mechanisms are needed to ensure constitutional and lawful policing.”
Garland added that Justice Department officials had begun to network with Minneapolis citizens and community groups regarding their interactions with Minneapolis Police.
“All these voices will be critical to the reform efforts that will follow if the investigation determines the existence of constitutional or statutory violations,” he said.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement that he “welcomes this investigation” and plans to fully cooperate with investigating authorities. Arradondo added that he understood that “the intent of this inquiry is to reveal any deficiencies or unwanted conduct within the department and provide adequate resources and direction to correct them.”
If the Justice Department discovers a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, a public report will be issued. The federal government also has the option to levy a lawsuit against the department.
The previous administration’s Justice Department, under former AG William Barr, considered opening a similar probe shortly after Floyd’s death. Three unnamed sources told The Associated Press that Barr was hesitant to do so, fearing division in law enforcement amid last year’s protests.
Garland added that he strongly believes that the majority of police officers don’t want to work in departments that allow bad practice, or alongside bad officers.
“Good officers welcome accountability because accountability is an essential part of building trust with the community, and public safety requires public trust,” Garland said. “I know that justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive, and sometimes never comes. The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law.”