Justice Dept begins probe of Massachusetts police department

BOSTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced an investigation into whether the police department in Massachusetts’ second-largest city routinely uses excessive force or discriminates against residents based on race or gender.

The civil investigation into the Worcester Police Department will review how the agency addresses misconduct complaints and discipline; review department policies, procedures and training; and evaluate how officers interact with the public, collect evidence, and complete investigations, the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston said in a statement.

“Based on information provided to the Justice Department, we find significant justification to investigate whether the Worcester Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of racially discriminatory and gender-biased policing, and uses excessive force,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

The “majority of Worcester’s officers do their jobs with honor, pride, restraint and distinction,” said U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins, but she added that the investigation’s “ultimate goal is to ensure that policing in Worcester is constitutional, safe, and effective all while the civil rights of their residents remain intact”

City leaders pledged full cooperation with the investigation.

“The city and Worcester Police Department collectively strive to deliver the highest quality of municipal services to residents and will continue to do so in a transparent and professional manner as the investigation takes its course,” police Chief Steven Sargent, Mayor Joseph Petty and acting City Manager Eric Batista said in a statement.

Worcester has roughly 200,000 residents and is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Boston. More than 23% of its population is Latino or Hispanic, and 13% is Black or African American, according to Census Bureau statistics.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 prohibits state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law, federal prosecutors said.

The Justice Department conducted a similar investigation of the Springfield Police Department that was settled earlier this year with a consent decree.

The U.S. attorney’s office did not point to any specific incidents that spurred the investigation, but in April, a Black man sued the city and five officers saying he was wrongfully charged with murder based on his race and what his attorneys called fabricated evidence.

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