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Justice Department launches Baltimore police investigation

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department Friday launched a pattern or practice investigation into the methods of the Baltimore Police Department, weeks after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

Calling police-community relations “one of the most challenging issues of our time,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Friday the investigation, which will look into whether the police department has used excessive force and conducted unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and discriminatory policing practices through the lens of civil rights and constitutional violations.

She said she launched the investigation at the urging of Baltimore officials and community leaders, and with the support of the Baltimore police union.

“Our goal is to work with the community, public officials, and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore,” Lynch said at a press conference Friday.

If violations are found, the investigation will result in a “court-enforceable agreement” to change the practices of the Baltimore Police Department.

Attorneys and investigators with the Justice Department’s civil rights division will meet with Baltimore law enforcement officials and community members in the coming days and weeks, Lynch said.

Lynch said the protests in Baltimore in recent weeks revealed that the trust between the community and Baltimore police officers “is even worse and has been severed” and said she hopes the investigation can lead to reforms to “create a stronger, a safer and a more unified city.”

She also emphasized that the turmoil in Baltimore — from Gray’s death in police custody to the ensuing protests and rioting — should not define the city.

“Earlier this week I visited with members of the community who took to the streets in the days following the unrest to pick up trash to clear the debris and they are Baltimore,” Lynch said, adding that youth leaders and tireless police officers focused on protecting the community “they too are Baltimore.”

Asked about a nationwide fracture between law enforcement and the communities they serve, Lynch said that the issues in Baltimore have also occurred in other cities around the country, but said that those problems go beyond just community-police interactions.

Instead she pointed to “generations of communities that feel very separated from government overall” and said flashpoints — like Gray’s death — “coalesce years of frustration and anger.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had requested the investigation into the city’s police department, similar to the probe conducted in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting death of Michael Brown last summer, earlier this week when Lynch was in town.

Lynch said she hopes the results of the investigation can also help inform the practices of police departments around the country.

“Our hope is that other jurisdictions — cities large and small — can look at these reports and say, ‘Are these issues that I face?'” Lynch said.

Gray suffered a fatal injury to his spine while in police custody under unclear circumstances. Six officers have been arrested and face charges, ranging from false imprisonment to murder.

CNN’s Athena Jones and Dana Ford contributed to this report.