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WASHINGTON – The Justice Department is launching a federal civil rights inquiry into Minneapolis police operations and its use of lethal force, a day after former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in the murder of George Floyd.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the review Wednesday, reviving a Justice strategy used to hold local police agencies to account for engaging in a pattern of unlawful conduct.
“Yesterday's verdict does not address potentially systemic police issues in Minneapolis,” Garland said, describing a far-reaching investigation that will examine officers' use of excessive force, discriminatory actions involving those with mental health problems, department training policies and supervision.
The newly announced Justice review is separate from a previously-launched federal investigation into Floyd's death, which Garland said is continuing.
“I strongly believe that good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices,” Garland said in brief remarks at the Justice Department. “Good officers welcome accountability … Public safety requires public trust.
“The Department of Justice,” the attorney general said, “will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law.”
Justice Department intervention in local policing matters was largely stalled during the Trump administration, but Garland reversed that policy last week signaling that the Biden administration intends to more aggressively investigate police departments accused of civil rights violations amid deepening distrust of law enforcement.
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The Garland memo issued Friday rescinded a previous directive by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions who ordered Justice attorneys to limit the use of so-called consent decrees, which are court-enforced agreements that enable federal judges to ensure promised reforms are underway.
The move came in the final days of Chauvin’s trial in Minneapolis and following multiple fatal shootings by police.
President Joe Biden, who ran on a promise to reinvigorate federal oversight of police, said after the jury delivered its verdict Tuesday that the need for police reform does not end with Chauvin's conviction.
“We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will never happen and occur again; to ensure that Black and brown people or anyone — so they don’t fear the interactions with law enforcement, that they don’t have to wake up knowing that they can lose their very life in the course of just living their life,” Biden said.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also have called on Congress to follow through on proposed legislation that bears Floyd's name.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would bolster police accountability, make it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers for misconduct and create a national registry to track officers who try to move from one department to another.
The bill has stalled in the Senate where Republicans have criticized several aspects of the bill, including a provision eliminating some legal immunity for officers designed to shield them from unwarranted complaints.
Minneapolis officials did not immediately comment on the Justice action, though Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other department commanders have been vocal in their condemnation of Chauvin's actions and testified against him during the trial.
“We recognize that our community is hurting, and hearts are heavy with many emotions,” Arradondo said Tuesday following the verdicts. “However, I have hope the community that I was born and raised in and that we serve is resilient and together, we can find our moment to begin to heal.”
The inquiry into the Minneapolis Police Department is one of four open Justice Department investigations into law enforcement agencies.