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Detroit police progress minimal

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Detroit police progress minimal

U.S. monitor cites 'general lack' of change

October 19, 2004

BY BEN SCHMITT and DAVID ASHENFELTER

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

Sixteen months after the U.S. Justice Department ordered the Detroit Police Department to improve virtually every aspect of its operations, a court monitor has found that the department continues to lag in efforts to make lockups safe for prisoners, revamp policies concerning its use of force and develop a system for tracking problem officers.

The department complied with only two of 103 changes highlighted in the monitor's fourth quarterly report. It was issued by Sheryl Robinson, the federal monitor appointed to oversee implementation of the changes.

For example, Robinson said she is concerned about the "general lack of significant progress" in making holding cells more humane. She said the department hasn't completed any of the audits required by federal mandates, preventing the department from evaluating its progress.

She also expressed concern about communication between her office and the Detroit Police Department. However, Robinson was not specific about her concern and wrote that all parties involved are committed to complying with the decree.

Two sources familiar with the consent decree told the Free Press that Robinson is angry at department demands that she communicate with only one designated police official. Robinson insists she can walk into a precinct and discuss changes with whomever she wants, the sources said.

"The parties and the monitor have been actively exploring ways to improve and promote communication," Robinson wrote.

The monitor found the department had failed to comply with the consent decree's demands to complete periodic audits on a wide range of operations. "The DPD has not completed any of the audits required," Robinson wrote.

James Tate, a police spokesman, said the auditing process is in the review stage.

"We cannot submit the audit until the reviews are completed," Tate said. "The audits were done. We are at the final phase of reviewing them right now."

Tate also denied that there is any dispute between Robinson and the administration.

Robinson said she was pleased that the DPD had developed a number of policies this quarter, as she previously had expressed concerns about the DPD's failure to develop and issue effective policies that adhere to the requirements of the consent judgment.

She added that there was more progress made this quarter than any other.

"The city and the DPD approved a significant number of policies and training directives during this quarter," she wrote. "The DPD is now in the process of disseminating, implementing and developing training on these policies."

The U.S. Justice Department launched a civil rights probe of the Detroit Police in December 2000 at the request of then-Mayor Dennis Archer, and has been investigating allegations of excessive use of force, fatal shootings and mistreatment of prisoners. Archer requested the investigation following a Free Press investigation, which said the city led the nation's large cities in the number of per-capita shootings of citizens by police. Later stories uncovered the department's practice of using illegal dragnets to hold homicide witnesses without warrants and the mistreatment of prisoners in police lockups. Police spokesman James Tate said money is the main barrier in bringing the lockups into compliance.

"It's going to cost between $30 and $40 million to make all the changes to the holding cells that the monitor requires," he said. "We don't have the funds it takes to make all the changes at this time."

Tate said assistance could come if city voters pass Proposal S, which allows the sale of up to $120 million in bonds for up to 30 years for police, fire, EMS and health projects.

Contact BEN SCHMITT at 313-223-4296 or [email protected]

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