The Justice Department has opened a broad investigation into allegations of unlawful policing tactics in Ferguson, Mo., scene of last month's fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen that set off weeks of sometimes violent protests.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who visited Ferguson two weeks ago, said Thursday that the probe is in addition to a previously announced federal civil rights investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown, 18.
"In meetings and listening sessions — as well as informal conversations — people consistently expressed concerns stemming from specific alleged incidents, from general policing practices (to) the lack of diversity on the Ferguson police force," Holder said at a news conference in Washington.
The majority of Ferguson residents are black, and the city's police department is overwhelmingly white.
The inquiry, to be conducted by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, will examine years of data to determine whether the department engaged in a pattern of discriminatory policing and the use of excessive force
"Our investigation will assess the police department's use of force, including deadly force," Holder said, adding that investigators will review police stops, searches, arrests and treatment of inmates in the city jail.
Holder said the Justice Department could expand its inquiry to include police forces in neighboring cities.
The city issued a statement promising to cooperate with the investigation, pledging to be "transparent and forthright as we continue the process of earning back the trust of our residents and our neighbors in the St. Louis region."
Brown's family is encouraged by the Justice Department investigation, family lawyer Benjamin Crump said in a written statement.
"We believe that transparency in law enforcement is the only way to build trust in the community, not just in the killing of Michael Brown but for others who have suffered as well," Crump said. "We can't have another young man's life taken amid murky circumstances. We want the truth to shine brightly."
St. Louis County Police Department, which also responded to the Ferguson demonstrations, will also come under review as part of a Justice Department community policing initiative that helps departments identify and fix problematic practices.
Holder said that effort will focus on racial profiling, stops, searches and frisking as well as the handling of mass demonstrations. Law enforcement training at the police academy and at the continuing professional level also will be reviewed, he said.
Ronald Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), described the review as an "in-depth organizational assessment." COPS will also conduct an "after-action review" of the agency's response to the demonstrations "from beginning to end," Davis said.
St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar said he requested the review.
"The most effective way to ensure we adhere to our own rigorous standards of performance is to have an objective party review our operations on a regular basis," Belmar said in a statement. "I welcome any process that improves the department."
Brown, who was black, was shot at least six times by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson, 28, who is white. A St. Louis County grand jury also is reviewing the fatal shooting.
The Justice Department has moved aggressively against local police departments in recent years. Less than a month before the Ferguson shooting, the Civil Rights Division issued a blistering assessment of the Albuquerque Police Department, whose officers used deadly force more than 20 times since 2009.
"We concluded that a majority of these shootings were unconstitutional,'' federal authorities said in an April report.
Contributing: Yamiche Alcindor and Donna Leinwand Leger