Civil rights groups "wave the red flag" about stop-and-frisk in Detroit

Sep 5, 2013

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A coalition of civil rights groups is concerned about the Detroit Police adopting some controversial tactics.

The department is training officers to perform “stop and frisk” procedures during routine traffic stops.

Police officials call it “proactive policing.” But civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union worry it could cross a constitutional line.

A federal judge recently found a New York City version of that program used racial profiling, and ruled it unconstitutional.

ACLU Michigan attorney Mark Fancher says “stop and frisk” isn’t illegal when done properly—that is, based on a standard of “reasonable suspicion,” where race could be one factor involved in stopping a suspect, but not the sole reason.

Fancher says the concern here stems from the people the Detroit Police have brought in to train officers—a think tank called the Manhattan Institute.

“The very consultants who have been engaged to develop a training program for stop and frisk for the traffic unit in Detroit Police, are the same people who are reported to have developed the stop and frisk practice for New York City,” he says.

“If the Detroit Police still decide to go forward with developing a program that’s going to mimic what was done in New York City, that’s a big problem.”

Fancher says the intent here is to “wave the red flag” about stop and frisk, and “interrupt” any overly-aggressive policies before they start.

Ron Scott, with the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, says his organization has recorded at least 25 incidents in the past 2 years that resemble illegal stop and frisk tactics.

“What we don’t want is for the police to create crime under the premise of stopping it,” Scott says.

Detroit Police officials acknowledge that “stop and frisk” isn’t exactly anything new for the department—but say their vision of the practice is “constitutional policing” that respects civil rights.

The DPD has been under a federal consent decree for 10 years for various infractions, including excessive use of force.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig says the department will proceed with rolling out the stepped-up stop and frisk presence, and continue its partnership with the Manhattan Institute.