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Outside Monitor to Oversee Detroit Police

U.S. acts after 30-month probe. Department is ordered to limit use of force, revise arrest rules.

June 13, 2003|Eric Slater | Times Staff Writer

Federal investigators named an outside monitor Thursday to oversee the Detroit Police Department for at least five years. The move follows a 30-month investigation that turned up many problems, including the improper use of deadly force.

The Justice Department conducted the review after protests over several police shootings.

Sheryl L. Robinson of the security consulting firm Kroll Associates -- whose chief executive, Michael Cherkasky, similarly oversees the Los Angeles Police Department -- will help ensure that the department complies with a two-part consent decree crafted by the Justice Department and agreed to by the city.

One part of the decree pertains to police officers' use of force, as well as justifications for arrest and detention; the second part is aimed at improving jail conditions. Detroit is the latest in a line of U.S. cities whose police departments have come under federal supervision in recent years.

"We have reviewed thousands of documents, interviewed hundreds of witnesses and spent a great deal of time at each of the precincts," U.S. Atty. Jeffrey Collins said during a news conference with Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Police Chief Jerry Oliver. "We have worked diligently to create the best possible roadmap for the turnaround of the Detroit Police Department.... And they have demonstrated their complete cooperation."

The Justice Department began investigating police procedures in Detroit in 2000 following an outcry over several police shootings. In one case, an off-duty officer shot and badly wounded a learning disabled man who mistakenly opened the officer's car door. In another incident, an officer shot in the back a 14-year-old carrying a gun, killing him, and in another case an officer shot a teen in the face, wounding him, after mistaking the boy's chili fries for a gun.

In its probe, the Justice Department found that Detroit's 4,200 officers were often poorly trained and some habitually made false arrests or detained people illegally.

Under the agreement, which can be enforced by federal courts, the department will rework its rules for arresting and detaining people, limit its use of force and make it easier for civilians to file complaints against officers. The department also agreed to file a progress report every 90 days, and to file a report with the monitor every time an officer uses force.

The monitor will have the authority to reopen any internal investigation into the use of force, civilian complaints or injuries to suspects or prisoners. A 2000 Detroit Free Press study of FBI statistics found the city's rate of fatal shootings by police to be the highest in the nation. With 0.92 fatal police shootings per 100,000 residents, the rate was 2.5 times higher than New York's and 1.5 times that of Los Angeles.

Police and prosecutors said that the analysis did not fairly take into account that much of Detroit's downtown has still not rebounded from the decline of manufacturing over the last several decades and is plagued by crime.

Kilpatrick was elected mayor in 2001 after focusing heavily on crime-reduction and improving the police department during his campaign.

"We will fix it now," Kilpatrick said Thursday. "We will fix it in an efficient and effective manner."

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