MIAMI — The U.S. Justice Department has found for the second time in a decade that the Miami Police Department engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force in shootings of suspects, including seven black men fatally shot by officers over an eight-month period ending in 2011.
The department's Civil Rights Division released the findings of an 18-month investigation Tuesday and said it will seek a federal court order to ensure department changes are made permanent and overseen by a judge. That did not happen after a 2002 civil rights inquiry that also found Miami officers used excessive force.
"We are disappointed to find that the problem is back," said Roy Austin, deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights.
The investigation began in November 2011, shortly after the firing of former police Chief Miguel Exposito amid an outcry from black community leaders about the shootings. Exposito had created specialized tactical squads that focused intensely on high-crime areas but also increased the likelihood of violent confrontations.
His replacement as chief, Manuel Orosa, has dismantled those units and changed tactics, leading to a sharp decrease in shootings since 2012, the report noted.
In a statement Tuesday, Orosa said he has implemented many reforms and will work with the Justice Department to make changes permanent, although he added that many findings needed unspecified clarification.
Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said federal officials will negotiate with the police department on policy changes and reforms to present to a federal judge. He said court oversight is likely to last several years.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the report mirrors what his group and others have been saying for years.
"But as significant as these findings are, ultimately, someone needs to be held responsible for the deaths and the violation of constitutional rights," Simon said.
The Justice Department report found that between 2008 and 2011, Miami officers fired shots at someone 33 times. In contrast, investigators noted that during one 20-month period in 2002-04, no Miami police officer fired a gun at a suspect.
Only seven officers were responsible for a third of the 2008-11 shootings, three of which were found unjustified by internal police investigators. No officers have been charged criminally. One officer has been dismissed by the department after he shot and killed an unarmed motorist and wounded an unarmed passenger.
Five of the officers involved in the fatal shootings of black suspects have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, said state attorney spokesman Ed Griffith. Two remain under investigation.