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Coalition calls for feds to resume oversight of Detroit Police Department

two Detroit police cars parked with Detroit skyline in background
Detroit Police Department

Detroit Police killings and use of force incidents have increased over the past two years, according to the Detroit-based Coalition for Police Transparency and Accountability.

In a memo to the U.S. Justice Department, the coalition requests a federal investigation into what it calls “a pattern of killings and excessive force by the Detroit Police Department.” It wants the Justice Department to resume oversight of the department, which was under a federal consent decree from 2003 to 2016.

The memo lists a number of citizens killed by DPD since 2016, including 16 since 2020. The memo said the coalition “makes no judgements about whether each of these killings and others were unjustified or justifiable, but notes “the disturbing and concerning frequency of the police department’s use of deadly force.”

The memo also cites data that show use of force incidents rose 24% over the past two years, coinciding with times when protesters took to the street in the wake of George Floyd’s murder were at times subjected to excessive force. It also alleges “an institutional culture within the department that promotes violence and racial discrimination.”

“The problems that prompted federal monitoring have not only persisted, but they have gotten worse,” the coalition wrote.

Mark Fancher, a coalition member and ACLU of Michigan attorney, said reforms made under the consent decree don’t seem to have stuck.

“We’re not experts in law enforcement. We just know it didn't work,” Fancher said. “It was in effect for 13 years. And after they left, things got worse.”

Fancher said the depth of the problems within DPD suggest that more officer training or personnel changes won’t be sufficient. “If you don't change the culture of the department, if you don't change the mindset and the way in which the officers themselves approach policing, then it all goes for naught,” he said.

Detroit Police spokesperson Rudy Harper did not directly respond to the coalition’s claims and its request for federal oversight. But in a statement, Harper said that DPD is “committed to transparency and accountability,” and “constitutional policing, and a community-first approach to law enforcement.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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