MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Attorney General Eric Holder also spoke today about Ferguson, Missouri. The Justice Department has launched a broad investigation into the actions of police there. That's after a white police officer shot an unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, touching off angry protests. Holder says he found a deep mistrust of police in Ferguson. So the Department is taking a closer look at whether there's been a pattern of violations. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Civil rights investigators are just beginning to gather evidence in Ferguson, looking at possible violations of the Constitution or other federal laws. Attorney General Eric Holder describes the scope.
ERIC HOLDER: Our investigation will assess the police department's use of force, including deadly force. It'll analyze stops, searches and arrests. And it will examine the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson's city jail.
JOHNSON: The investigation is likely to last for months. And it could result in a court-enforceable agreement to improve things like hiring and training of law enforcement in Ferguson. Police Chief Thomas Jackson told NBC News he'll cooperate with federal investigators.
THOMAS JACKSON: In the end, the Justice Department is going to try to improve the quality of policing nationwide. I mean, that's their job - part of their job. This section - so I welcome that. Anything that we can do here to improve what we're doing is good.
JOHNSON: A lawyer for the family of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot by police last month, says he's encouraged by the Justice Department announcement. Promoting transparency in law enforcement, the lawyer says, is the only way to rebuild trust in the community. The Attorney General says eventually his investigation could expand.
HOLDER: We will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead. And if at any point we find reason to expand our inquiry to include additional police forces in neighboring jurisdictions, we will not hesitate to do so.
JOHNSON: That includes the St. Louis County Police. Officers there sometimes deployed tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters angry about Brown's death. But for now, officials at the U.S. Justice Department are working to help county police with crowd-control techniques and other training, the idea being those county police can go on to train cops from all over the greater St. Louis area. So working with them could have a multiplier effect.
Over the past five years, Holder says, the Justice Department has prosecuted 300 individual officers for misconduct and it's investigated 20 other police departments for patterns or practices of legal violations. For the nation's first black attorney general, the long and sometimes troubled history between police and minority communities can be personal.
HOLDER: But again, I want to make clear that I think the vast majority of peoples who are in law enforcement - the vast majority of police departments do their job in a way that we would expect. But to the extent that there are problems, I think we as a society need to have the guts to say, you know, we're going to identify this as a problem. This is a deficiency in our country and we're going to make it better.
JOHNSON: In Ferguson, he says, this investigation could represent one of those moments. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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