US & Canada

Baltimore police face new race bias probe

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Media captionA majority of Americans approve of the charges, says Pew

The mayor of Baltimore has asked US investigators to see if the city's police department engages in routine discrimination or excessive force.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that the community and the police had a "fractured" relationship.

A 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, suffered fatal injuries when arrested, sparking protests and riots.

The US Department of Justice is already investigating whether Mr Gray's civil rights were violated in the incident.

Ms Rawlings-Blake said the US attorney general understands the urgency of her request for an investigation.

The request comes a day after the new head of the justice department, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, visited the city.

A spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice - who would handle the request - acknowledged receipt of the request for a "pattern or practice" investigation.

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Image caption US Attorney General Loretta Lynch (L) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (R) met on Tuesday
Image copyright AFP

"The attorney general is actively considering that option in light of what she heard from law enforcement, city officials, and community, faith and youth leaders in Baltimore yesterday," Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said.

Baltimore City Council President Jack Young has been calling for this kind of investigation since October - well before Mr Gray's arrest and death in April - said his spokesman.

The new investigation that is being called for is similar to the one that was done in Ferguson following the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer last summer.

The wide-ranging investigations look for patterns of discrimination within the police departments being reviewed. They can involve the examination of how officers search and arrest suspects, and how they use force against them.

The investigation's results can sometimes include an agreement known as a consent decree, in which the police department in question agrees to make specific changes, while an outside monitor is appointed to ensure compliance.

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Police forces under scrutiny

The US Justice Department seems to be stepping up its reviews of police departments around the country.

In the first five years of the Obama administration, the US Justice Department began investigations into more than 20 police departments around the country - that's more than double the amount in the five-year period before that.

The vast majority of police agencies that are reviewed and found to be in violation of the US constitution voluntarily agree to implement reforms, the Justice Department says. However, when they do not agree, the department can file lawsuits to force an overhaul.

Investigations do not always find abuse. Investigators in the most recent five-year period have reviewed five law enforcement agencies without finding constitutional violations.

For more: Four other US police forces under scrutiny

The US Justice Department formed this kind of agreement with the New Orleans Police Department in 2012, and the police force there was required to make widespread reforms.

In April, US Justice Department issued a report detailing widespread abuse at the police department in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and called for an overhaul of its internal affairs unit.

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