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AP source: US to investigate Baltimore police force

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake holds a news conference on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 in Baltimore. The mayor called on U.S. government investigators to look into whether this city's beleaguered police department uses a pattern of excessive force or discriminatory policing. Rawlings-Blake's request came a day after new Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited the city and pledged to improve the police department. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP) WASHINGTON EXAMINER OUT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is preparing to announce a civil rights investigation into the practices of the Baltimore police department following a request from that city’s mayor, a person familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The investigation could be announced as early as Friday, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been made public.

The unrest in Baltimore, and the tension it exposed between the police and the community, has presented Lynch with the first test of her young tenure. She was sworn in last week as the successor to Eric Holder, whose final year as attorney general was consumed by matters of race and police practices, and has spoken several times about the need to mend troubled relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Lynch, who visited the city earlier this week, said Baltimore had made significant strides in a voluntary, collaborative reform effort with the Justice Department that began last fall amid reports of excessive force. But, appearing before members of Congress on Thursday, she said, “I have not ruled out the possibility that more may need to be done.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake initially appeared determined to fix the department’s problems herself, but later said she would accept outside help to repair a breakdown in public trust in a city rocked by riots sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who was fatally injured in police custody. Six officers were charged last week by Baltimore’s top prosecutor, and the Justice Department is investigating the death as well for potential civil rights violations.

Baltimore suffered days of unrest after Gray died April 19 following a week in a coma after his arrest. Protesters threw bottles and bricks at police the night of his funeral on April 27, injuring nearly 100 officers. More than 200 people were arrested as cars and businesses burned.

The civil rights investigation, similar to ones undertaken in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, will examine the policing patterns and practices of the entire police department. It is far broader in scope than a separate Justice Department investigation that aims to determine whether Gray’s civil rights were violated.

These wide-ranging investigations look for problematic trends in areas such as use of force, ticketing practices and training and can result in the appointment of an outside monitor to oversee negotiated changes. In Ferguson, for instance, a scathing Justice Department report called for sweeping changes in police practices it called unconstitutional and discriminatory and issued recommendations for improvement.

During Holder’s tenure, the Justice Department opened more than 20 such investigations into police departments.

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