DOJ launches civil rights probe into police department in New York suburb

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Friday that it would be opening a civil rights investigation into a police department in a New York City suburb.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division announced that the “pattern-or-practice” probe would evaluate allegations concerning the Mount Vernon Police Department’s use of force and strip searches. 

“Police officers have tough jobs, and so many do their work honorably, lawfully, and with distinction, respecting the rights of the citizens they have sworn to protect,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for New York’s Southern District. “But when officers break the law, they violate their oath and undermine a community’s trust.” 

The effort is the Biden administration’s fourth federal civil rights investigation into a local police department this year.

The department under Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandThe Memo: Trump’s justices look set to restrict abortion House progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger’s case Garland orders DOJ to prioritize violence on airplanes MORE and Kristen ClarkeKristen ClarkeDOJ reaches settlement in discrimination claims against Gap Hillicon Valley — Justice Department takes on Uber Justice sues Uber over ‘wait time’ fees MORE, the assistant attorney general leading the Civil Rights Division, has renewed its efforts to crack down on civil rights issues concerning law enforcement after the pattern-or-practice investigations fell out of favor with the previous administration.

Westchester County District Attorney Miriam Rocah asked federal authorities to investigate Mount Vernon police earlier this year after announcing investigations into individual officers that “found disturbing allegations of patterns of inappropriate and potentially unlawful conduct” involving strip searches, excessive use of force and other allegations.

Rocah applauded the DOJ’s announcement on Friday. 

“I commend the Department of Justice and the Southern District of New York for dedicating substantial federal resources to vigorously defend the civil rights laws through a comprehensive investigation of possible violations of civil liberties by the Mount Vernon Police Department,” Rocah said in a statement. “Shortly after taking office, I referred certain practices of the MVPD to DOJ. Today’s announcement demonstrates that parallel parts of the justice system operate to help create a safe environment for our communities.”

Mount Vernon city officials were not immediately able to comment when contacted by The Hill.

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