Homeless in downtown Detroit claim police dumped them in remote areas

Apr 18, 2013

The ACLU of Michigan claims Detroit police have a practice of taking people who appear to be homeless and dumping them miles away from downtown.

A yearlong investigation by the ACLU asserts that officers approach people in the Greektown area and offer them a "ride."

ACLU attorney Sarah Mehta says the homeless people are forced into police vans, ordered to empty their pockets and then taken to remote areas of the city or even across city limits.

"Our sense is that the police are trying to sanitize the area of Greektown so that it looks more welcoming to the tourists who may not be comfortable with the visible reminders of poverty in this city," Mehta says.

According to an ACLU complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, people who appear to be homeless are told they don't have the right to be on the street near a casino, bars or restaurants.

"A lot of individuals we spoke with are not in good health and have been dumped very far away from Detroit, and have had to cross over dangerous streets, over highways, trying to walk back at great personal risk," Mehta says.

"We wrote a long letter to the chief of police, as well as Mayor Bing and the emergency manager, detailing problems over the past year," Mehta says. "We also filed a Department of Justice complaint because the DOJ has entered into a consent decree with the police department on a lot of abusive practices, one of these being these unlawful—essentially arrests."

The ACLU says it wants individual officers involved in the practice to be disciplined.

"It's especially callous because this neighborhood of Greektown is where a lot of homeless individuals get the services they need," Mehta says. "It's where shelters and warming centers are located. It's where they go for social assistance and for jobs."

The Detroit Police Department has not responded to requests for a comment.