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Detroit police chief suspends 2 officers, 1 supervisor, after police fatally shoot woman

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Detroit Police Department
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Michigan Radio
Detroit Police Chief James White is suspending two officers and one supervisor after a 27-year-old Black woman was shot last week by officers.

Detroit Police Chief James White said Monday that he is suspending two officers and one supervisor after police shot and killed a 27-year-old Black woman who was in the midst of a mental health crisis last week.

White said he wants the suspensions to be without pay. That decision is ultimately up to the city's Board of Police Commissioners.

The police department’s Office of Professional Development will review the supervisor's performance to see if a reduction in rank is warranted. Another supervisor will be placed on administrative duty, meaning they won’t be policing out on the streets, while an investigation is underway.

Neither of the supervisors was directly involved with the shooting. Only one of the suspended officers actually fired a gun, according to White.

Still, he said, his recommendation of suspension is well founded.

“I have some concerns with the pace in which we moved. And I also have some supervisory concern issues. You know, I look at everything and it's so early in the investigation that I'll have more findings when we're done here. But I've seen enough to give me pause and concern early on,” White said.

White said he reviewed audio and video evidence of police’s interaction with the woman. White said he concluded that at least some members of the department involved in the shooting should have had a better strategy.

“It's imperative that supervisors take a leadership role to ensure that our policies are being met at every step of the way, and that the policies and practices are executed to perfection," he said. "I have serious concerns."

"I'm not saying we failed, but I have concerns of my supervisors and their ability to lead on that particular scene,” White continued.

White did not name the officers.

At a news conference, White played a video of the 911 call that he said came from the mother of the woman who was killed.

The caller said that her daughter had knives, a bat, and a gun, and that her daughter had hit her in the head. She said her daughter was schizophrenic and her grandson was bleeding inside the house. The caller said she may have to shoot her own child.

But the woman did not fire a gun while police were at the scene, White said.

The situation was potentially volatile, he said. "That family member who knows this person and knows their behavior is indicating that there's a problem. And that behavior is so unpredictable even to the family member that they've made a decision to involve the police."

"We have to believe them that the situation is dangerous enough to involve us or otherwise they would not have,” Chief White said during the press conference.

Detroit police officers began getting training for responding to mental health crises in 2019, said Andrea Smith, the the Director of Innovation and Community Engagement with the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network.

Smith said the Detroit Police Department has done "a wonderful job" with the training. Still, she said, it's only "an extra tool in our tool belt," and it does not "supersede" the agency's policies and practices.

Smith said during the press conference that people in crisis can request a crisis intervention trained officer respond to their call. Neither she nor Chief White said whether the person who called 911 in last week's fatal incident requested a crisis response team, nor did they say whether any of the responding officers had received crisis intervention training.

White said that over the past weekend, police responded to 11 mental health calls and that six of them involved people who were violent. He said all of those interactions ended peacefully.

“Our goal is always to de-escalate. We don't have a crystal ball and we don't know what would have happened had we waited this out. But we have learned from our experience that this strategy helps ensure a safe outcome,” White said. “While those suffering from mental illness may at times be dangerous, they are also vulnerable and in need of help and protection.”

The Board of Police Commissioners will decide whether the officers and supervisor will be suspended with or without pay within the next week, said White. The board meets weekly on Thursdays.

Chief White has said multiple times in the past month that Detroit is in a mental crisis and that a broken healthcare system has failed citizens.

20-year-old Porter Burks was shot and killed last month by officers who responded to a report by his brother that Burks was having a mental health crisis, according to police. Burks also had schizophrenia.

Burks family is suing the City of Detroit for $50 million dollars. The lawsuit claims gross negligence, assault, battery, and willful misconduct.

Briana Rice is a reporter/producer operating out of Detroit.
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