- Justice official: Miami had nine police-involved shootings in 16 months
- This equates to one fatal shooting per 220 officers
- By comparison, the rate in New York was one per 4,313 officers
- It's a "civil investigation," U.S. attorney says; "we are not here to cast blame"
Federal authorities are investigating whether Miami police officers have shown a systemic "excessive use of deadly force" while on the job.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department's civil rights division, announced the civil investigation in Miami on Thursday, along with U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wilfredo Ferrer.
"Our job here is to ensure that the citizens of South Florida are served by a police department that ... does its job effectively ... while, at the same time, protecting the constitutional rights of every person it comes into contact with," Ferrer said.
There have been nine police-involved shootings in Miami since July 2010, leaving eight young men dead and another critically wounded, Perez noted. He compared this rate of one fatal shooting per 220 Miami police to the New York police department's one fatal shooting per 4,313 officers, while also noting that the District of Columbia had no fatal police shootings in 2010 compared with five in Miami.
The assistant attorney general added that the investigation's goal is not to focus on, and possibly seek charges against, specific Miami police officers. Instead, the aim is to "determine whether there are patterns or practices" that violate the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
"We are not looking at individual accountability of a particular individual," Perez said, pointing out this is a civil and not a criminal investigation. "Rather, we are looking more broadly at whether there are systemic deficiencies."
The investigation follows what Ferrer called a "preliminary inquiry" launched after requests were made last spring. Perez cited the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act -- which came about following the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers accused of beating Rodney King -- as the grounds for the probe.
Miami is one of several urban police departments that have been investigated. Similar probes have been conducted in Seattle; New Orleans; Newark, New Jersey; and the District of Columbia, according to a press release from the U.S. Justice Department.
Ferrer and Perez met earlier Thursday with Mayor Tomas Regalado and interim Police Chief Manuel Orosa. The U.S. attorney stressed that the investigation does not mean federal authorities will not continue to work extensively with Miami police on other matters.
"Throughout the months ahead, ... we will maintain a dialogue with the police department and the city of Miami.," said Ferrer, adding that federal authorities "appreciate the many sacrifices" of Miami police and vowing that "we will continue to do our jobs."
Echoing Perez, the U.S. attorney said that the probe is more about finding patterns and trying to arrive at solutions than it is about finding fault.
"We are not here to lay blame or cast suspicions. We are here to learn ... and if there are problems, to fix them," Ferrer said.