MIAMI — After a seven-month span that included the fatal shootings of seven black males between July 2010 and February 2011, the Justice Department has opened an investigation into the Miami Police Department and its policies surrounding the use of deadly force. The investigation will be launched by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to examine whether or not the police shootings were justified.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wilfredo Ferrer announced the civil investigation on November 17.
Perez compared this rate of one fatal shooting per 220 Miami police officers to the Country’s largest police force, the New York Police Department, who had one fatal shooting per 4,313 officers. Perez made a keynote that their goal is not to specifically target individual police officers, but to determine whether or not the department is in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Following repeated requests after the February shooting death of 28-year-old Travis McNeil in Little Haiti, the Justice Department had begun a preliminary investigation to determine whether federal laws were violated. McNeil was shot once in the chest by a Miami police officer when his rental car was pulled over. He was unarmed and never left the driver’s seat.
Much of the probe will focus on possible systemic problems in the Miami Police Department under the command of former Police Chief Miguel Exposito, who was fired in September for insubordination. According to “The Miami Herald,” the “pattern and practice” investigation will determine whether the police department became bias toward shooting black suspects. The shootings sparked outrage in the black community along with the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union, all of whom demanded a federal investigation.
Exposito became known for his controversial tactics, even calling his cops “predators” on a leaked reality-TV show promo called “Miami’s Finest: Special Operations Section.” The former police chief claims the shootings and more aggressive police tactics were justified in high-crime areas because of the large volume of gang activity. In a letter defending his tenure, Exposito stated that his aggressive approach led to significantly less crime in Miami’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
The interim Police Chief, Manuel Orosa, who took over after Exposito, is said to be doing a comprehensive review of his predecessor’s reign as chief. “Quite frankly, I’m concerned some of the shootings could have been avoided by not putting our officers in those situations,” Orosa told “The Miami Herald.”