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Politics

Attorney General Announces Investigation Into Louisville Police Force

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The U.S. Justice Department will open a civil rights investigation into the Louisville, Ky., police department. The decision comes after law enforcement shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her home last year. NPR's Carrie Johnson has been following the story and joins us now.

Welcome back.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Carrie, help us understand the focus of this new investigation by the Justice Department.

JOHNSON: DOJ is going to be looking for patterns of unconstitutional or unlawful policing by the Louisville Metro Police Department. That includes things like the use of force. Here's how Attorney General Merrick Garland described it today.

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MERRICK GARLAND: It will determine whether LMPD engages in unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures, as well as whether the department unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes.

JOHNSON: And that last point about search warrants is important, especially after police shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her home in March 2020 in a botched law enforcement raid. There is an ongoing federal investigation into her death, but that's separate from this new probe announced today.

CORNISH: So my understanding - right? - this is one of these kind of pattern and practice probes, the second one that the attorney general has announced in just five days. How does this help us understand what the Biden Justice Department will prioritize?

JOHNSON: That's right. This news about Louisville follows an investigation last week involving Minneapolis police, and that announcement came soon after a jury convicted former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. The message here is that civil rights are going to be very important in this Justice Department. DOJ is going to use these pattern or practice investigations to look at systemic problems in police departments. But President Biden has gone out of his way to say the majority of law enforcement officers do their job honestly, and so did Attorney General Merrick Garland today.

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GARLAND: We are uniquely aware of the challenges faced by those who serve as police officers. We see their commitment firsthand every day, and we recognize the complex issues that make their already difficult jobs even harder.

CORNISH: The voice there of the attorney general - what have you heard from Louisville today?

JOHNSON: Merrick Garland says Justice Department lawyers on the ground in Kentucky met with the mayor and police chief today. He says they got a pledge of support and cooperation. Federal investigators are going to look for input across the community. Garland says he knows Louisville has already made some changes, like banning no-knock warrants and paying a $12 million settlement to Breonna Taylor's family. The attorney general says the DOJ investigation will take all of that into account.

CORNISH: When it comes to what the federal government can do, you've been reporting on this idea of carrots and sticks when it comes to police accountability. I guess, sticks are these investigations - carrots, federal grants. Any updates on what's going on?

JOHNSON: Yeah, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund wants the Justice Department to stop all federal grants to local police until DOJ can be sure the departments are not engaging in discrimination. The idea is taxpayer money should not be supporting jurisdictions that are discriminating in traffic stops and arrests and use of force. That would be a pretty big step, though. DOJ gave out at least $500 million in those funds last year alone. Justice is reviewing that demand, doesn't make a commitment either way.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson.

Thanks for your reporting.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.