Trish Cunningham of the DCPAB at Speak Out on Sunday, October 21, 2007. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
PANW Editor's Note: The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality held its annual commemorative event marking the 11th anniversary of the national day of action against police misconduct.
The event this year consisted of a speak out at the Considine Recreation Center on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Representatives from the DCPAB along with the family members of victims of police brutality and survivors themselves, talked about their experiences and struggles to win justice.
Some of the speakers today included: Pan-African News Wire editor Abayomi Azikiwe as moderator, Ron Scott of the DCPAB, Sandra Hines of the DCAPB and candidate for the Detroit Board of Education in the 5th District, and Trish Cunningham, Tijuana Morris, Rev. Nathaniel Smith and Elizabeth Stevenson, all of whom are members of the DCAPB.
People also came from Ann Arbor to represent the Committee to Defend Dr. Catherine Wilkerson. In addition, people traveled from as far away as Sandusky, Ohio as well as Canada.
This event was covered in the television media including both Channel 4 and 2. The local Sunday Free Press carried an article on the failure of the Detroit Police Department to come into compliance with the two federal consent decrees which have been in effect since 2003. DCAPB was mentioned and quoted in the article which is reprinted below.
Detroit cops struggle to meet goals for reform
Only 54 of 177 changes made since '03 agreements
October 21, 2007
BY DAVID ASHENFELTER and JOE SWICKARD
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
When Hazel de Burgh wheeled into Detroit in 2005 to help fix its troubled police force, the high-powered Toronto law enforcement expert got a blunt lesson in how things rolled in the Motor City.
While de Burgh was meeting with the chief, the cops towed her boyfriend's Porsche 996 from a restricted area, where she had permission to park, outside police headquarters. It was a sign, intended or not, of the rocky relationship that has marked the four years since the department came under federal monitoring of its conduct.
The department has struggled to meet the demands of court-appointed consultants hired in 2003 to transform the department, which was under scrutiny for civil rights violations, years of questionable civilian shootings, mistreatment of prisoners in decrepit lockups and millions of dollars in lawsuit payouts.
The department has curbed some abuses. Homicide detectives appear to have ended the practice of dragnet arrests -- rounding up large groups of people near homicide scenes and bringing them in for questioning. And the number of suspects dying in police holding cells has plummeted, although the family of a 67-year-old prisoner said police ignored his pleas for medical help, allowing him to languish in a cell until he died of a heart attack in 2005.
Despite some improvements, court-appointed monitor Sheryl Robinson Wood and Kroll, the New York-based consulting firm selected to help her oversee Detroit's compliance, have faced continued resistance from police. The department has yet to build a $30-million central prisoner lockup. Detroit residents are still paying millions of dollars in damages because of police misconduct. And a promised computer system to identify problem cops remains incomplete.
As of July, police had completed 54 of the 177 changes authorities had promised to implement by next year. In September, U.S. District Judge Julian Cook Jr. reluctantly agreed to extend the deadlines to 2011.
"By any standard, 54 out of 177 is not a good average," Cook said at the hearing.
Change is slow
Detroit City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel said she's angered by the department's slow progress and unmoved by police complaints that monitors are picking on them. She said Detroit cops have a history of closing ranks against outsiders and promising changes that never materialize.
"I'm frustrated by the fact that, lo these many years later , many millions of dollars later, many victims of misconduct or improper policies later, we still don't have this done," said Cockrel, who in 2000 was the first council member to request a federal investigation of the department.
The federal oversight followed a Free Press series in 2000 that revealed that Detroit police were killing residents at a rate higher than any other big-city police force, and that the department cleared officers in questionable civilian shootings.
After articles about illegal dragnet arrests in murder cases and prisoner deaths, then-Mayor Dennis Archer called the Justice Department.
Following a 2 1/2 -year federal civil rights probe, the city signed two agreements pledging reforms -- called consent decrees -- with the Justice Department in June 2003.
Monitors and police officials said they have clashed over a variety of issues, including the temperature of prisoners' food, tracking office keys and investigating every shot fired by an officer.
Department officials portray the monitors as nitpickers obsessed with paperwork and bookkeeping at the expense of effective law enforcement. And they said that monitors, until recently, wouldn't give them credit for how far they've come, noting that the force has spent more than $24 million since 2003 on changes.
"We're not resisting," Chief Ella Bully-Cummings said last month. "What we're doing is saying, 'Hello Monitor, we're making progress, and you're not acknowledging what we're doing.' "
The court-appointed monitor, Wood, an ex-prosecutor in New York and a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, said she is disappointed by such comments.
"To be hearing those complaints this far into the consent decrees is troubling," she said. She declined further comment, saying any disagreements with police should be resolved privately.
Ideas, culture clash
Critics have long complained that the Detroit Police Department has been fiercely protective of what police characterize as their special culture. The critics said the department alternatively stalls, stonewalls or waits out its critics.
Jerry Oliver, the outsider Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick brought in to run the department shortly after taking office in 2001, said in a brief e-mail interview that he had a terrible time trying to change a department set in its ways.
"I spent nearly two years there doing my damnedest as police chief, against all odds, to move DPD forward," said Oliver, who quit in October 2003 and now runs the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.
Oliver wouldn't return telephone calls. His e-mail said he'd had enough of Detroit and didn't want to say anything more about his tenure.
His replacement, Bully-Cummings, a career Detroit cop, said her staff remains committed to reform but complains of relentless demands and second-guessing by monitors.
As an example, she said the monitors went overboard on a policy to provide suicidal prisoners with paper smocks and shoes, demanding to know how the paper products were to be stored, distributed and reordered.
She conceded that paperwork is important, but said cops spend too much energy filling out forms.
Her staff also complains that monitors wouldn't let Detroit adopt policies used by other departments, in effect, forcing the DPD to reinvent the wheel in developing its own protocols.
"We'd almost rather have Ron Scott as our monitor," one official grumbled several weeks ago, saying the forceful leader of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality is easier to work with and has a better sense of the city's needs.
The Rev. Jim Holley, vice chairman of the city's Board of Police Commissioners, said he is sympathetic to the department's frustration.
Though he said he welcomes monitors' help to force change, he added: "They want two crosses on the T's and two dots on each I."
High among police gripes has been the quarterly report card issued by Kroll, which monitored the Los Angeles Police Department after it was rocked by excessive force and corruption scandals. The report initially did not credit the department on any given reform until it had scored a 94 out of 100 rating.
Police said this all-or-nothing approach obscured what progress the force had made, hurting its image and morale.
"If you read the monitor's reports, you'd think we're not really doing anything," Bully-Cummings said.
Last month, monitors agreed to change the report card to reflect Detroit's progress, even when it falls short of 94% on a reform goal. Under the new grading system, the police, in a report issued Monday, got partial credit in just one category covering timely arraignments.
Compromise has been difficult.
The monitors said police officials have questioned their competence and tried to have some of them fired. The price tag has also been an issue.
In 2004, monitors raised their monthly fee from $104,166 to $141,729 after the city persuaded Judge Cook to extend a deadline for improving jail lockup conditions. The department said it's paying too much, and police executives grouse that Kroll is dragging out the consent decree to pad its bill. Monitors countered that the bill rose because the agreement covering police lockups, which was to end in 2005, requires extended monitoring.
Scores of lawsuits pending
The four-year tab of $6.25 million is well below the $16.8 million the city paid out last year from lawsuits. In 2004, the city paid $22 million for police misconduct.
Scores of other suits remain pending.
In a 2005 incident, police arrested James Stone, 67, for violating his parole on a drug charge. Two days later, Stone complained of severe chest pains and asked to go to a hospital. He was told no vehicles were available, and his pleas were ignored for nine hours, court papers said.
Stone's grandson, in another cell on an unrelated charge, was so distressed that he confessed to his crime on condition that a detective get help for his grandfather, the suit said.
Still, court papers said, police delayed. Stone was later found unresponsive in his cell and died.
He's one of four people to die in custody since 2003.
His daughter, Jameal Stone, an airline agent in Atlanta, said his death was pointless.
"Everyone's human, no matter what mistakes they make," she said. "For them to leave him in there like that to die was wrong. He'd be alive today if they had gotten him some help."
The family's lawyer, Robert Morris Jr. of Farmington Hills, a former Detroit homicide cop, said two police investigations whitewashed the death and overlooked key evidence, including other prisoners who begged police to help Stone. He said no one was ever disciplined.
But police said Stone died of natural causes, and Jacob Schwarzberg, a city attorney and former Detroit cop, said, "the city is quite confident in its defense of this case."
Still a lot left to do
The department's to-do list remains daunting.
A computerized early warning system -- which will track such things as lawsuits, citizen complaints and disciplinary action to identify problem cops and trends -- is finally getting off the ground, more than two decades after police first pledged to install one. An interim system is running; a permanent one will undergo testing early next year.
Cockrel, the councilwoman, said the department's inability to get a final system online shows its plodding pace.
"We're still testing it?" she asked. "I'm glad we're testing it, but my goodness."
She said that Detroit's government was able to convert its "entire technology platform from mainframe to a PC-based system, and it didn't take anywhere near this long. Why can't we get things accomplished in this department?"
Councilwoman JoAnn Watson said she's baffled about why broad reforms remain elusive.
"Every time I read an explanation on why we haven't met a deadline, it makes sense to me. But it's hard to swallow when you see the millions and millions we've expended ... in terms of compliance and lawsuits."
Three years ago, Detroit residents approved a bond measure to build a $30-million central lockup for 300 prisoners to replace outdated cells in stations across the city. Bully-Cummings said the city hopes to start construction by early next year and open the facility by 2010.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Levy told Judge Cook in September that foot-dragging on installing safety equipment in lockups puts prisoners at risk and exposes the city to more lawsuits.
Police have yet to install sprinkler systems, proper fire alarms and other safety equipment in all of its lockups, as it promised the Justice Department it would do. City attorney John Quinn told Cook that the city doesn't want to spend $2 million on cells that will be replaced by the central facility.
While the two sides bicker, some law enforcement experts and community activists say the judge overseeing the Department's compliance shares some blame for the slow pace.
While Judge Cook, 77, fretted about the city's slow progress at the September hearing, he has yet to set consequences for missed deadlines.
"When I think of a judge, I think of someone who will initiate stern consequences for people who don't follow the plan," said Scott, of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.
Scott said the department still has too many rogue cops preying on citizens, based on complaints from residents.
Police executives said they have asked Scott to provide specifics, but that he hasn't done so.
The coalition has scheduled a protest rally from 3 to 5 p.m. today at Considine Recreation Center at 8904 Woodward in Detroit to discuss the problem.
Law enforcement experts note that other cities -- such as Cincinnati -- had strong judges to convince police officials to accept changes, even when they hurt.
"The more problems you have, the more you need the judge," said Oren Root, deputy director of the Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Research Center, a law enforcement think tank.
Cook, a senior status judge with a reduced workload, declined to comment.
Ron Sanchez, an ex-captain in the Los Angeles-based Police Department who helped lead his department's consent decree compliance program, said he understands how Detroit cops feel.
He said he repeatedly locked horns with de Burgh, the Porsche-driving consultant, over reforms, but eventually came to appreciate what she and other monitors were trying to do.
"It was the hardest job I had in my career," he said. "But the process added a tremendous amount of value to the LAPD."
Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at 313-223-4490 or firstname.lastname@example.org and JOE SWICKARD at 313-222-8769 or email@example.com.
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