The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Wednesday that it would be launching an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to examine its law enforcement practices. The announcement came only one day after a jury decided to convict former police officer Derek Chauvin of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the homicide of George Floyd last year.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “Although the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death.”
He added: “Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis.”
The Hill noted: “The move tees up greater federal oversight of local police departments, giving the DOJ an avenue to bring civil suits against police departments with a pattern of using excessive force or discriminatory practices against certain groups of people, such as people of color or people with disabilities.”
“We undertake this task with determination and urgency knowing that change cannot wait,” Garland insisted.
A senior DOJ official told reporters that the agency was already beginning to look into the police department during the Chauvin trial but did not announce its investigation to avoid influencing the outcome of the proceedings. He stated that MPD was notified of the probe on Wednesday morning.
Members of the Minneapolis City Council released a statement indicating that it supports the investigation. “We welcome the opportunity for the Department of Justice to use the full weight of its authority to hold the Minneapolis Police Department accountable for any and all abuses of power,” the council members wrote in a statement on Twitter.
If MPD is found to have been engaging in civil rights abuses, the DOJ could take legal action against the agency. This could result in the MPD entering into a civil rights consent decree which would give the DOJ a level of oversight over the agency.
“DOJ is currently enforcing 12 different consent decrees and is investigating three other police departments. A senior DOJ official told reporters on Wednesday that the department will open more if they are recommended by career staff,” according to The Hill.
A federal investigation into the MPD’s practices seem warranted given the fact that the city has had numerous issues involving police brutality. Indeed, questions were raised in the case of Derek Chauvin regarding how the agency deals with officers who abuse their authority.
Many have noted that the former officer had at least 17 complaints filed against him previously. Six of these complaints alleged that he used excessive force. If the MPD had acted on those complaints and taken action against Chauvin, Floyd would likely still be alive today.
It is also worth noting that DOJ investigations into other police departments have revealed even more damning information. When the Justice Department investigated the city of Ferguson’s police department after the controversial shooting of Michael Brown, it found that the agency was engaging in corrupt policing.
The DOJ report revealed multiple abuses carried out by the city’s police department. Investigators found that the department’s practices were designed more to increase revenue for the city then to protect and serve the community. “This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community,” according to the report.
If MPD’s failure to address Chauvin’s complaints, along with the other issues it has with police misconduct, is any indication, it seems likely that more malfeasance will be brought to light. While the possible revelations will give more insight into how the department has functioned, the question remains: Will it help to affect real change?