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U.S. investigating use of force by Albuquerque police

(Reuters) - The Justice Department said on Tuesday it launched a civil rights probe into whether the police department in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has shown a pattern of using excessive force on civilians.

The investigation - which is civil, not criminal - is one of 14 active police reform investigations across the country, according to the Justice Department.

There have been 25 shootings involving Albuquerque police officers since 2010, 17 of which were fatal, according to KOB, a news station in the city.

"Our investigation into APD's (Albuquerque Police Department's) use of force practices will be thorough, fair and independent," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez said in remarks prepared for a press conference. "We will peel the onion to its core, and leave no stone unturned."

If federal officials find systemic violations, they will seek to reach an agreement with the city to fix the problems, but if an agreement cannot be reached, the attorney general could bring litigation, Perez and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales told Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry in a letter on Tuesday.

The investigations into police departments across the country stem from a 1994 law that gives the Justice Department authority to fight violations of U.S. laws or the Constitution by police departments.

In July, Attorney General Eric Holder placed the New Orleans Police Department under the scrutiny of a federal monitor, and days later Seattle officials reached an agreement with the Justice Department to refine the use of force by police officers.

Last year, the Justice Department said it was conducting a preliminary review of the Albuquerque Police Department.

Berry, who has been mayor since December 2009, said in a statement that his administration will cooperate with the investigation and that there have already been dozens of reforms to training, policies and procedures.

"As the investigation unfolds in the coming months, we will continue to address issues if and when they arise," Berry said.

(Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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