The U.S. Justice Department will investigate possible civil rights violations by the Baltimore Police Department following the death of a black man while under police custody, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Friday.
The investigation will look for unconstitutional policing practices within the city, such as patterns of excessive force or improper stops and searches.
“Our goal is to work with the community, public officials, and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore,” said Lynch. «Ultimately, this process is meant to ensure that officers are being provided with the tools they need – including training, policy guidance and equipment – to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake requested the federal probe into her city’s police department following the April death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of a neck injury while in the back of a police van.
The city’s prosecutor has announced criminal charges, including one murder charge, against six officers involved in the case. The Justice Department is also carrying out a separate probe into the death.
It was the latest instance in which black men died by police actions. The cases have worsened racial tensions in the U.S. and raised renewed concerns about excessive force and racial discrimination by police.
A similar federal investigation into last year’s fatal police shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black man found a pattern of civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department in the state of Missouri.
The Department of Justice also announced late last year there was reasonable cause to believe the Cleveland Division of Police in Ohio engaged in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force.
During her congressional testimony, Lynch said such situations involve a core responsibility of the Department of Justice. She said it is not only the role of the department to combat illegal conduct when it occurs, but to help prevent the circumstances that give rise to it in the first place.
The attorney general added that although Baltimore has made «significant strides,” more may need to be done. “I assure you senators that I am listening to all voices,” she said.
Lynch said a federal training initiative called Collaborative Reform, which can be used to improve police procedures involving the use of force, began last year in Baltimore at the request of the Baltimore Police Department. «It’s important to note I think that Collaborative Reform has been a very successful tool throughout the country,” Lynch said.
She also said there has been a lot of engagement since then between the police and the Baltimore community on ways to improve the city’s police department.
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland suggested the Department of Justice consider mandating training on ethnic and racial bias, and the use of force before federal funds are made available to local law enforcement.