Updated Thursday, Sept. 4, 3:49 p.m. EDT: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed Thursday what several news sources had reported: that the Justice Department is opening an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri. The DOJ plans to take a top-to-bottom look at the police force that has become the epicenter of a national debate on race and the police since the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.
"In Ferguson, our investigation will access the police department's use of force, including deadly force. It will analyze stops, searches and arrests. And it will examine the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson's city jail," Holder told reporters gathered at a press conference.
Holder stated that while the investigation would focus on Ferguson, the entire state would be part of a "collaborative reform effort" known as Community Oriented Policing Services—or COPS—that would include an "intensive review and technical assistance, including racial profiling; stops, searches and frisking; the handling of mass demonstrations by police officials; and law-enforcement training, both at the police academy and at the continuing professional level."
Holder noted that he is aware of the demands police officers face, and is thankful for their conscientious efforts.
"As the brother of a retired police officer, I know that the overwhelming majority of our brave men and women in uniform do their jobs honorably, with integrity and often at great personal risk," Holder said.
Holder also stated that he does not consider his new initiative to be one that should be taken lightly. "I want to be clear: This is not a stopgap or a short-term solution. It’s a long-term strategy, founded on community policing, that will provide a detailed road map to build trust; to bolster public safety; to ensure accountability; and to change the way that law-enforcement leaders make decisions, implement policies and forge community partnerships."
The Justice Department plans to open a separate investigation into the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri that will focus on practices of the police and include patterns of stops, arrests and use of force, and police training, according to the Associated Press.
The new investigation, first reported by the Washington Post, is expected to be announced Thursday and will run parallel to the current civil rights investigation involving the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, who was shot by a white police officer Aug. 9. According to a source close to the investigation who spoke with AP, "Missouri officials were notified Wednesday of the probe."
The new investigation will look beyond the shooting death of Brown and delve into what some have called systematic racism practiced by the 90 percent-white police force that regulates Ferguson, a town which is about 70 percent black.
African-American Ferguson residents have argued that the police disproportionately target them. AP reports that a "2013 report by the Missouri attorney general's office found that Ferguson police stopped and arrested black drivers nearly twice as frequently as white motorists but were also less likely to find contraband among the black drivers."
Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson about two weeks ago after weeks of protests and marches. The Ferguson police response was criticized after photos and video made national news, showing a militarized police force complete with armored vehicles launching tear gas. Holder met with Brown's parents during his visit and spoke about his own experiences of being racially profiled by police.
AP reported that Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson did not immediately return a call seeking comment about the new investigation.