Washington: The US Justice Department opened a full- scale civil rights investigation of the Baltimore police force following the death of a black man who was injured while in custody.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch decided to grant the request of the city’s mayor for a federal inquiry into the police department’s practices and whether there are patterns of misconduct. The probe will explore whether there officers have engaged in racial profiling or used excessive force.

“Rather than examining whether the police department violated good policies, we will now examine whether they violated the constitution and community civil rights," Lynch said at a news conference on Friday in Washington. “None of us has any illusion that reform is easy. Reform will not come overnight."

Lynch said the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division would conduct the inquiry, which will start immediately. She said her agency would seek court action to redress police practices if civil-rights violations are found.

Lynch, 55, who replaced Eric Holder as attorney general, was sworn in just hours before Baltimore erupted into violence on 27 April, forcing her to confront the combustible and difficult issues of race and policing that consumed much of her predecessor’s final months.

Broadening probe

The Justice Department is already conducting a lower-level probe of the city’s police force. But Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a letter released on Wednesday that a fuller investigation would help restore trust after the city was racked by riots and protests over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

Such “patterns and practices" investigations often result in settlements to address problems, though the department can also file a federal lawsuit to seek changes.

Gray died on 19 April after suffering spinal-cord injuries. Baltimore’s top prosecutor announced criminal charges on 1 May against six officers in connection with Gray’s arrest, a move that helped ease tensions.

Lynch and her top civil-rights attorneys spent much of Tuesday in Baltimore, meeting with Gray’s family, community leaders and police officials. Lynch told a group of activists that “you all know there’s a lot of work to be done," according to a pool report of her visit. “All of you have worked so hard on these issues. I’m here to listen and meet with young people."

The incident was the latest in a series of high-profile instances since last summer of black men dying in confrontations or while in the custody of police officers. The deaths sparked protests from suburban St. Louis to New York City. Bloomberg

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