The U.S. Department of Justice, responding to a call for help from local leaders, has begun a probe into the New Orleans Police Department, initiating a process meant to bring reform to the long-troubled force.

The NOPD has faced persistent allegations of civil rights violations, particularly in regard to officers' actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In collaboration with our partners, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune and PBS "Frontline," ProPublica has helped bring several cases to light in which NOPD officers shot civilians in the chaos after the storm. The Justice Department has confirmed it has at least eight ongoing civil rights investigations that focus on the department. Four former police officers have already pleaded guilty for their involvement in a shooting incident on the Danziger Bridge in which two people died and four were wounded.

The Justice Department review, which comes at the request of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, will focus on "allegations of excessive force, unconstitutional searches and seizures, racial profiling, failures to provide adequate police services to particular neighborhoods and related misconduct," according to a story in the Times-Picayune.

If the police department is deemed to have a "pattern or practice" of violating people’s civil rights, the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act gives the federal government an array of tools to compel changes, including appointing a federal judge to monitor the force.