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U.S. government opens civil rights probe into police in New York suburb

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WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights inquiry into police practices in yet another city, investigating possible systemic abuses in the New York suburb of Mount Vernon and whether officers targeted Black residents, used excessive force and conducted illegal searches, officials said on Friday.

The department's Civil Rights Division since President Joe Biden took office in January also has launched investigations into police practices in Minneapolis, Phoenix and Louisville, Kentucky, following protests in many U.S. cities last year against racism and police brutality.

Kristen Clarke, assistant U.S. attorney general for the civil rights division, and Manhattan's U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announced the investigation into possible abuses by the city of Mount Vernon, which has a population of roughly 70,000, and its police department.

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Clarke said investigators will look at evidence suggesting that Black residents are targeted for "abuse and excessive force," and that police supervisors may be teaching this targeting.

The inquiry, she said, was prompted by tips and publicly available information.

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REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

"We have received information about the repeated use of excessive force, often against individuals who are handcuffed," Clarke said. "Similarly, reports indicate that officers routinely conducted searches without sufficient legal basis, including strip searches."

A statement provided by a city spokesperson said that Mount Vernon officials will fully cooperate with the investigation.

The statement said that since taking office in 2020, Mayor Patterson Howard has "demonstrated her commitment to transparency and transformation" by launching an internal investigation into past allegations of abuse and corruption within the city's police department.

Since then, Police Commissioner Glenn Scott has implemented new policies and procedures "to ensure that every police encounter is equitable and non-discriminatory," the statement said. It added that the information from this internal probe was turned over to local prosecutors and the U.S. Justice Department.

Biden has made the issue of racial justice a priority in the aftermath of the May 2020 police killing of a Black man named George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who was later convicted of murder.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham

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