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Detroit Police escape federal oversight, but some still worry

Apr 1, 2016

Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

After 13 years, the Detroit police department is now officially free of U.S. Justice Department oversight.

The department had been under two federal consent decrees since 2003.

Those decrees stemmed from a host of unconstitutional policing practices, ranging from excessive use of force, to illegally detaining witnesses.

Federal judge Avern Cohn signed off on a full return to local control this week, after an 18-month transition period.

Police Chief James Craig says 13 years of federal oversight helped create a “constitutional” police department.

But Craig said that especially in later years, it slowed some movement toward greater transparency — including efforts to equip officers with body cameras.

“There was tremendous resistance by the monitor,” said Craig in August 2015. “But then the mayor [Mike Duggan] came in and said ‘No, we need to do this.’ Very aggressive.”

“And so here we are now, moving forward, much quicker than we did when we were actually under federal monitoring.”

According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Craig says the years of federal oversight ended up costing the city about $50 million — including more than $87,000 a month for the court-appointed federal monitor.

Ken Reed, head of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, says there’s no doubt the department improved a lot during the years of federal oversight.

But, “We still think there should still be some federal monitoring of the department,” Reed said. “I think they kind of jumped the gun in terms of ending this thing. You’re asking the fox to watch the henhouse.”

Reed said there continue to be complaints about excessive force, and the department’s internal inquiries can be slow and lack transparency.

“And bear in mind, with some of the conditions you have out here — with utility shutoff, water shutoffs, lack of economic opportunities for youth — the conditions are ripe where … you could find yourself in the middle of another rebellion here in the city,” he said. “All it takes is one incident.”