Thursday, May 17, 2007

Detroit Cops Say Federal Oversight Too Strict: Despite Consent Decrees Department Attempts to Re-write History

Cops say federal oversight too strict

Judge asked to ease Detroit reform; critics slam idea

Paul Egan
The Detroit News

The Detroit Police Department asked a federal judge on Wednesday to ease the steps it must take to comply with four-year-old court orders aimed at reforming the department's use of force and treatment of prisoners.

Except where clearly otherwise stated, the orders should require the department only to develop new policies, not implement them, the department argued in the court filing.

The motion drew swift criticism.

"What is the sake of having a policy if you can't make sure that policy translates into some kind of action?" asked Ron Scott, a spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, a citizens group that pushed for federal intervention to help curb police abuses.

Detroit City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel described the department's position as cynical and "preposterous public policy."

The department entered into the agreements, called consent decrees, in 2003 as a way of settling two federal lawsuits that accused the police of repeatedly violating the rights of suspects, prisoners and witnesses.

Rather than requiring the department to demonstrate compliance with a host of new policies on subjects such as officers firing weapons, carrying unauthorized ammunition and using chemical spray, the courts and the federal monitor should trust the department to do what it says it will do, according to the filing.

"One would hope the (government) does not have such a low opinion of the defendant as to entertain a concern the defendant would hypocritically adopt bogus policies it has no intention of implementing," said the motion filed by Police Department lawyer John P. Quinn.

U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy said his office will oppose the motion in a response it will file with U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook, who oversees the case.

"The basis of the motion really surprises me," Murphy said. "To think that a consent decree would be entered which requires policies to be devised and not have them implemented is really counterintuitive."

Matt Allen, a spokesman for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, said the mayor would defer comment on the matter to Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings.

Deputy Chief James Tate, a spokesman for Bully-Cummings, did not return calls for comment.

Scott said the department, which has spent more than $10 million complying with the orders while continuing to fall short, is backsliding in an effort to save money.

"If that's the position that they're taking, we have to intensify the fight," he said.

The court appointed Sheryl Robinson Wood of the New York City-based consulting company Kroll Inc. as the department's federal monitor.

Her most recent quarterly report, filed in April, said that of 86 requirements examined during the quarter, the department complied with 14 and failed to comply with 49. Compliance with 23 other requirements was still being evaluated.

Interpreting the orders in the way the police now want would make it easier to comply with 30 of about 175 requirements in the two orders, including those dealing with investigation of prisoner injuries, use of video cameras in holding cells, use of force by officers and requirements that officers report misconduct by their colleagues.

The department stressed in its motion filed Wednesday it has never admitted to the numerous alleged incidents of brutal police tactics and shocking jail conditions that led to the agreements.

The government "has not proven a single one of its factual allegations," the department argues.

"The consent judgments are not remedies for wrongs shown to have existed. Rather, they are a bargained-for arrangement between the parties, with the blessing of this court, in which each party used carefully crafted language to achieve its own purposes."

Those statements also outraged critics.

"To say that these problems did not exist is an absolute lie," Scott said. "People were being killed."

The agreements were reached following a 30-month federal investigation into police shootings in the city and how they were handled by the department. Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer called for the investigation after reports of dozens of fatal police shootings in the city.

Cockrel said more than $100 million paid to settle police lawsuits is ample evidence of wrongs shown to have existed.

Cook is expected to rule on the department's motion after receiving a recommendation from U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Scheer. The federal monitor has made clear in her quarterly reports she expects the department to not just formulate new policies, but to implement them.

You can reach Paul Egan at (313) 222-2069

Complaints against police rise

Problems, criminal cases prompt questions about system designed to identify troubled officers

Ronald J. Hansen
The Detroit News

DETROIT -- In a recent one-week span, the Detroit Police Department saw one of its detectives plead guilty to defrauding crime victims, a sergeant charged with 16 sex-related felonies and a patrol officer charged with attempted murder in a road rage incident.

It was an especially bad week for a department that has been battered this year with at least seven criminal cases and a rising number of citizen complaints.

As of April 19 , the department had received 467 new citizen complaints compared to the 381 filed at the same time a year earlier.

But the problems, which run from the familiar complaints of excessive force up to murder, also raise questions about the effectiveness of the city's computerized early-warning system intended to identify troubled officers.

The department belatedly brought a risk-management system online two years ago, according to James Tate, a spokesman for the police.

Even so, the federal court-appointed monitor considers it inadequate, and, four years after the city agreed to implement such a system, the monitor still gives the department mostly failing grades in that area.

Tate said the criminal troubles were largely unforeseeable.

"These are off-duty incidents that could have happened in anybody's lives," he said.

The department is taking too long to implement the risk management system and leadership could be a reason, said Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a national expert on police accountability.

"It all depends on the commitment," Walker said. "I knew Detroit had some very serious problems. I'm troubled that it's taking this long.

"Based on the experience of other departments, I'm not surprised. It's going to take some leadership."

Last month, Sheryl Robinson Wood, the court-appointed federal monitor, noted the department was not complying with nine of the 17 mandates regarding a risk-management database. The areas where the department was in compliance mostly related to developing plans for the system. Key areas, such as having an operational database, a trial system or even picking a contractor for it, remained unfinished, the monitor reported in April.

Meanwhile, troubling incidents -- the kind such systems are designed to reduce -- continue for the department despite its efforts.

The complaints often give rise to lawsuits, which drain city resources and helped spur federal oversight of the department in the first place.

Risk-management systems are common in large police departments and typically analyze a dozen or more indicators with an eye toward flagging potential problems. For police, it often means examining citizen complaints, lawsuits, arrest data and attendance for each officer.

The programs, however, require leaders to make them a priority, said Walker, who has researched early-warning systems in departments nationwide.

"These systems are now generally regarded as the best tool for ensuring accountability," Walker said. "In every department, you've got a few employees who are at the far end. You can identify them and apply the appropriate remedy."

In Detroit, the Roosevelt Tidwell case is among the most disturbing criminal allegations to surface.

In April, Sgt. Tidwell, 39, was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct after a pair of couples reported he threatened them with jail if they didn't perform sex acts while he watched.

Another couple filed a similar complaint in February, but Tidwell continued patrolling by himself until the latest complaint led to his prosecution.

Tate said the initial complaint sparked an investigation of Tidwell that was ongoing when the second case happened.

"Officers are going to receive citizen complaints. I don't care whether you're the best officer or the worst officer. That's going to happen. If there's a pattern, then you have an issue," Tate said. There are usually warning signs of trouble for officers, Walker said.

A closer look at Lance Newman, for example, might have suggested he had money problems.

Newman filed for bankruptcy twice in the 1990s and owed the state back taxes, according to a lien filed against him last year.

About that time, Newman was investigating the stabbing death of an activist and began bilking the man's family out of $12,300. He is awaiting sentencing in federal court for wire fraud.

Tate, however, said the department's system doesn't examine records such as bankruptcy.

You can reach Ronald J. Hansen at (313) 222-2019 or

Detroit police face own troubles

Detroit officers have had a spate of criminal cases in recent months. The cases run from drunken driving to murder.
Louis Anderson pleads no contest in March to leaving his gun unsecured in child's death.
Todd Alexander Bettison crashed vehicle in suspected drunken driving in April.
Bryan Corey McClarty charged in April with attempted murder in road rage case.
Markus Ira Perttunen suspected of drunken driving in March in hitting another car.
Lance Roosevelt Tidwell charged in April with 16 sex-related felonies.
Brian Robert Vieau killed his estranged wife, then himself in February.
Lathuya Weaver charged in March with shooting toward her husband.
Sources: Court records, Detroit News research

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