Court-ordered oversight of Detroit police ends

 Judge Avern Cohn lifts 2003 decree 

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — A judge on Monday lifted the Detroit Police Department from 11 years of oversight by a court-appointed monitor after the federal government found substantial compliance with an agreement to reduce excessive force, illegal arrests and improper detention in holding cells.

“We are a constitutional police agency,” Chief James Craig declared at a news conference, an hour after U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ended a sweeping 2003 decree between the U.S. Justice Department and the city.

Detroit police have been under court scrutiny for more than a decade. Between 1995 and 2000, officers killed at least 47 people, including six people who were unarmed and shot in the back. The government found that crime witnesses were routinely arrested, although they didn’t commit a crime.

Nineteen suspects died in custody between 1994 and 2000, but no officer was disciplined, the government said.

The state now houses crime suspects, crime witnesses aren’t arrested and the use of force has been “dramatically resolved,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said.

For the next 18 months, the government still will keep an eye on police by reviewing internal audits, offering technical assistance and making on-site visits. But the city will save $1 million a year by not paying a court-appointed monitor to track the progress.

Officers get 40 hours of training a year on aspects of the 2003 agreement. Detroit still is working on putting cameras in all patrol cars.

“Detroit, Michigan, is not Ferguson, Missouri. ... This is the very best outcome under these circumstances,” said the city’s chief attorney, Melvin “Butch” Hollowell.

He was referring to the fatal shooting in Missouri of a young black man by a white officer and the community unrest that followed.

In a letter to Mayor Mike Duggan, McQuade said patterns of excessive force and illegal detentions are gone.

“When people do not trust police, they are less likely to report crimes or cooperate with the police, making officers’ jobs harder and more dangerous, while also decreasing public safety,” McQuade said.

Not everyone was satisfied with the lifting of the decree. Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality said many residents are subjected to aggressive frisking.

“This is no time to back away from federal oversight,” he said.