WASHINGTON — The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after a jury convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
The investigation will determine whether the police department engages in a pattern or practice of policing that violates the Constitution or federal civil rights laws.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Justice Department lawyers will look at whether Minneapolis police use excessive force, including during protests, or engage in discriminatory conduct. They will also examine whether their treatment of people with behavioral health problems follows the law.
"It will include a comprehensive review of the Minneapolis Police Department's policies, training, supervision and use-of-force investigations," Garland said in a brief announcement.
"Broad participation in this investigation from the community and from law enforcement will be vital to its success," he said. "The Justice Department has already begun to reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with the MPD."
The civil rights investigation will be separate from the Justice Department's pending criminal investigation into Floyd's death, Garland said Tuesday.
The police department said Wednesday that Police Chief Medaria Arradondo welcomed the investigation and had pledged his department's full cooperation.
"The chief has been insistent that he wants to make the MPD the best department possible," the police department said a statement. "With the assistance of the Department of Justice, the chief believes he will have additional support, some of which he has been seeking over the last three years, to pursue changes he would like to see in his department."
Following widespread protests after the televised police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles 30 years ago, Congress in 1994 gave the Justice Department the authority to conduct such investigations of local police departments and sheriff's offices. Since then, the government has opened 70 investigations, entering into 40 formal reform agreements.
During the Trump administration, however, the Justice Department dramatically scaled back its police investigations, which Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, said were harmful to local police.
Sessions issued a directive discouraging the use of the pattern-or-practice authority. Garland rescinded the memorandum Friday.
Some local police departments have welcomed Justice Department investigations; others have balked at the government's findings. Under the 1994 law, the government has authority to get court orders to require reforms.
"Good officers welcome accountability," Garland said. "I strongly believe good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices."
Chauvin was found guilty of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, in Floyd's death last year, which could send him to prison for the rest of his life.
President Joe Biden and members of Floyd's family renewed their calls after Chauvin's conviction for Congress to pass legislation named for Floyd that would ban chokeholds and overhaul qualified immunity protections for officers.