Monday, June 19, 2006

The State of Police-Community Relations in Detroit--DCAPB Update to the Community

The State of Police-Community Relations in Detroit---DCAPB


Presented on Saturday, August 28, 2004 at a Community
Forum Held at New Galilee Missionary Baptist Church
(11241 Gunston at Gratiot) From 1:00-3:30 p.m.

In November 1998, the Detroit Coalition Against Police
Brutality presented a thorough report to the Detroit City
Council on the problem of police brutality. The report and
the public hearing held in conjunction with it, documented
the widescale, long-standing, epidemic proportions of police
violence in our city. Our daily involvement with and support
of individuals who had been victimized by the police provided
a first-hand understanding of the critical nature of police
violence and the ways it undermines citizens' rights and the
overall quality of life in the City. Based on this day-to-
day intervention with citizens, extensive research, and
ongoing analysis of the forces at work, the Coalition
presented nine demands towards mitigating the problem.

That was six years ago, and we are certain that if the City
Council had taken responsible action, we would have developed
a very different scenario of police-community relations in
our City by now. However, our report was met with
indifference and failure to follow through on the part of the
City Council. Moreover, as we continued to expose and oppose
human rights violations by the police department, members of
the Coalition were harassed, discouraged and vilified.

In July 2003, the Honorable Judge Julian Cook, Jr. of the
federal court for the southern district of Michigan issued
two consent decrees against the City of Detroit for
violations of citizens rights by the Detroit Police
Department (DPD). The consent judgments were rendered
after a 30-month investigation of the police department by the
Department of Justice under the direction of U.S. Attorney
Jeffrey Collins. Given our years of protest and our request
for federal scrutiny of the DPD, it is clear that the Detroit
Coalition Against Police Brutality was the precipitating
force compelling the investigation and the subsequent

Judge Cook retained the services of Kroll International, a
company that provides intelligence to the U. S. government,
for a fee that is likely to be $10 million by the end of the
three-year oversight period -- another instance of the ways
in which police violence continues to bleed our public funds
and undermine the quality of life in our City. Shortly after
the issuance of the consent decree, The Detroit Coalition
Against Police Brutality filed a motion to intervene, seeking
to compel the Court to allow citizens who have been victims
to be involved in plans to reform the DPD. Our motion was
denied by Judge Cook and is currently pending appeal at the
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Cheryl Robinson, a former federal prosecutor under John
Ashcroft, was appointed to implement the consent decree.
Ms. Robinson's investigation identified 110 violations within the procedures and practices of the DPD, most of which occur
within two areas: (1) the consistent use of lethal force
against citizens where less harmful methods would be
effective, and (2) police abuse of citizens' rights during

These were not new discoveries. The lawlessness and
excesses of the DPD are well known among citizens, and
had been documented in our Report. In fact, one set of our
demands spoke directly to these problems by insisting upon disclosure of how citizens are routinely treated by police officers:

We demand that city government require of the Detroit Police
Department an annual report of citizens' complaints against
the Department; that complaints filed by intermediaries or
witnesses to police brutality also be recorded; that
fatalities at the hands of police officers be included, and
that the disposition of all cases of citizen complaints be
summarized and complied in a single document that is
available to the public. We further demand that complaints
of prisoners against the Detroit Police Department be
properly recorded and documented and that disposition of the
complaints be summarized and available to the public.

On November 10, 1998, the Detroit Coalition against Police
Brutality was denied statistical information concerning
civilian fatalities involving police officers. Our request
was made under the Freedom of Information Act. We asked for
names and addresses of all victims and their next of kin. We
also asked for cause of death, ethnic group, gender,
disability status, sexual orientation and age of each victim,
as well as the names of police officers involved. The reason
given for denial of our request for this information was the Detroit Police Department does not maintain a record of information you have requested. In order to comply with your request it would require research and compilation of numerous records.

At our prodding, the Police Commission now regularly
announces the number of citizen complaints currently pending
against the DPD. As of July 2004, there are approximately
800 cases awaiting resolution. However, there is still a
need for consistent summaries complaints and their
disposition. In the absence of such tracking, full
disclosure, and thorough reporting, pervasive and persistent
police abuse will continue.

Therefore, another of our demands called for an end to the
protection of policemen who are known predators, who have
long-standing personal histories of violent behavior. We
said that such police officers should be required to take
corrective instruction, should be tracked closely by
superiors, and finally removed from the force if they are
found to be incapable of appropriate professional police

Citing another area of police excess, we called for an end to
the recklessness of police chases that kill or threaten the
lives of suspects as well as innocent bystanders or drivers
in the vicinity, often result damaging public and private
property as well. In communities where there is wise civic
leadership, police chases are no longer tolerated.
We saw the need for more sophisticated, better-educated
police officers, who have been sensitized to the needs of
special populations such as the mentally or physically
disabled; we called for a police force representative of the
diverse racial and cultural communities in our City. We
demanded protection for community activists against police
surveillance and harassment, a practice that is being carried
out currently in police videotaping of group protests.

All of our demands were prompted by our recognition that the
crisis of police abuse is related to the sense of alienation
that exists between many officers and the communities they
supposedly serve. This is a legacy of the DPD, which has its
historic roots in the goon squads sponsored by Ford and other
industrialists to protect their corporate interests. Officers on
Detroit's force were routinely recruited from the South or from
other communities where racism against Blacks was rampant.
They saw their duty as the imposition of violence to intimidate
and control Black people and other sectors of the working class.

We are not far removed from this philosophy of policing
today, as Detroit citizens' rights and freedoms are
considered expendable to the gentrification of the city.
Detroit is being prepared for reclaiming by those who
formerly abandoned it, and the Super-Bowl make-over
currently underway has far-reaching implications for the
nature of police-community relations over the next two years.
We do not want to see a still greater escalation of police
violence in response to corporate anxieties and efforts to
keep the people under control.

Absence of police accountability is the root of the problem.
The 110 violations cited by Robinson/Kroll expose the culture
of violence that characterizes the DPD. By culture of
violence we mean all those behaviors that predator police
officers take for granted about their work: that their
lawlessness will be tolerated, that they can physically abuse
suspects in their custody, that they can steal from citizens,
from prisoners and from public funds; that they can engage in
drug trafficking, that they can intimidate their colleagues
and citizens into silence and get away with all these

Unless there is a certitude of punishment for criminal cops, the culture of police violence will persist in our City. When police officers regularly exercise a preference for lethal force, they violate their own professional training, which requires use of the least violent intervention in every interaction with citizens.

These officers reject the continuum of force principles, and
start out by drawing their guns, bypassing the steps of
mediation and conciliation altogether. Why? Because they
are not held accountable to observe professional standards or
to respect the rights of citizens who pay their salaries.

By contrast, police officers in an affluent, white community
do not arrive at a suspected crime scene with their guns
already drawn. Why are such practices tolerated in
Detroit? Accountability is absent. The police union makes
a mockery of unionism. Safeguards and procedures
historically formulated to protect workers' rights and
earnings against corporate exploitation are being used by the
police union to protect officers whose crimes are well-known
and documented. Criminal police officers are exonerated by
misled juries, as in the Fourth Precinct cases. A lethargic
prosecutor fails or is slow to prosecute police crimes.

The City Council remains passive and silent about police abuses, as they drain the City's budget of $200 million to settle police abuse lawsuits, a sum that would virtually erase the City's budget deficit. The Police Commission is reluctant to use its full authority, waiting as an out-of-control police department supposedly writes and implements corrective policies for itself. Other city officials attempt to appease corporate dictators, who, concerned about the "image" of the City, are willing to turn a blind eye to the police excesses that they encourage. All these forces act together to nurture and reinforce police and community violence.

Citizens of Detroit will have to act in our own defense. We
have to educate ourselves, organize, and mobilize against
police abuses whenever they occur. All of our institutions
must become involved, particularly our churches, where we
have the resources of leadership and community consciousness
that are vital to this effort. We must develop more progressive models of police-community relations, where policing is thought
of as supporting civic well-being, rather than maintaining the status quo through intimidation and violent repression.

In 1998, we called upon the city government to establish
policies and structures that would permit citizens themselves
to handle conflicts within their jurisdictions without police
intervention, remaining outside the police/criminal justice
system altogether. We must continue to press for such new
methods. To ensure accountability of the police force, we
proposed that the offices of the police chief, the police
commission and the public safety director by elected
positions, responsible directly to the citizenry. We wanted
to see an end to the payout of millions of tax dollars to
settle cases of police abuse.

Moving to develop more progressive methods of sustaining
peace and quality of life in our City, the Detroit Coalition
against Police Brutality has begun a new initiative called
Peace Zones for Life. Creating peace zones involves
educating and organizing citizens and community groups in the
methods of conflict resolution in our neighborhoods. We
intend to work with young people, particularly teens, whose
rights are regularly violated by the police, but we invite
the community at large to be a part of this effort. The
Peace Zones for Life program and other community concerns
will be the focus of our upcoming Citizen's Tribunal and
Public Forum,Saturday, August 28 at New Galilee Missionary
Baptist Church, 1:00-3:00 p.m. (See Attachment for Media

Mon Aug 23, 2004 7:00 pm


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