Attorney General Garland promises to prioritize investigating police departments that commit civil rights violations

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday promised to examine the practices of police departments around the country that commit civil rights violations in his first public comments since the police shooting death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

In a brief virtual address to civil rights leaders attending the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network’s national convention, Garland said the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division “will also prioritize investigating whether government agencies are engaging in patterns or practices that deprive individuals of their federal or constitutional rights.”

Garland said DOJ’s effort will include using grants “to help police departments around the country improve their practices through funding and technical assistance, leverage to promote policing policies that benefit communities and enhance trust.”

The attorney general called the Civil Rights Division “the tip of the spear of the Justice Department’s effort to insure justice for all people.” He said he is seeking an increase in the division’s budget and in the budget of its component, the community relations service. Garland also praised two nominees who are awaiting confirmation — Vanita Gupta, nominated to become the associate attorney general, the department’s third highest position; and Kristen Clarke, nominated to lead the Civil Rights Division.

“I need both of them and their experiences and skills to be successful as attorney general,” he said. “We are doing everything within our power to get them confirmed.”

Clarke is facing the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Garland also promised to work to reform the criminal justice system and end mass incarceration. “This means revamping charging policies to give prosecutors discretion to make charges and consequent sentences proportional to the crime and the damage it does,” he said.