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Judge dismisses longstanding court orders against Detroit police

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A federal judge has dismissed two federal consent decrees against the Detroit Police Department, freeing it from strict federal oversight.

The department has been monitored for compliance with the decrees since 2003, after a US Justice Department investigation found a “pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing.”

The problems included unlawfully detaining witnesses, “deplorable” holding cell conditions, and chronic use of excessive force.

Detroit US Attorney Barbara McQuade says those first two have been “100% resolved,” and the department has made “dramatic progress” on excessive force—but still has some mandates to meet.

“They fall largely into two categories,” said McQuade of the remaining mandates. “One relates to post-incident documentation. The other relates to in-car cameras. These two areas are still not in compliance, and we’re going to work with the department to get to 100% compliance in both of those areas.”

The Justice Department will still have some police oversight under an 18-month transition agreement.

Police Chief James Craig said the department’s culture has fundamentally changed, and promised the changes made will stick. “We want to reassure our community that this [change in oversight] does not mean that we will simply go back to what we were years ago,” said Craig.

But Ron Scott, head of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, was “disappointed” in the court’s ruling. He said there’s still no system to ensure that bad actors on the police force are punished.

“Unless you have certainty of punishment in the ranks, you will not change the culture,” Scott said. You can have an individual officer who from time to time may be disciplined, but you will not change the culture.”

And despite a decline in recorded force incidents since 2010, Scott doesn’t believe the department’s culture has changed dramatically. “You can have a dog and pony show all you want, but we see on the streets what’s happening every day,” he said.

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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