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Detroit Police commissioners consider use-of-force policy changes in wake of protests

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners is considering changes to the department’s use of force policy.

This comes after the eruption of nationwide protests sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. Detroit has now seen seven straight days of protests.

Police Commissioner Evette Griffie made the motion for the board to implement the following changes to the Detroit Police Department’s policy manual:

  • Require officers to use de-escalation procedures. The current department manual only suggests it.
  • Require officers who witness colleagues using excessive force to intervene.
  • Ensure that officers report when they threaten the use of a weapon. Currently, officers are only required to report if they actually use their weapon.

Griffie said such policies are considered “best practices across the nation,” and are supported by civil rights organizations.
The vote is not a final change. Griffie said it directs commission policy staffers to “spend some time revising the directive on the use of force,” and come back with language the board can vote on.

Commission staff also revealed a few more details about the Detroit Police response to the city’s recent protests. While Detroit protests have been considerably more peaceful than protests in other cities, on several nights officers responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and other aggressive measures to offenses ranging from curfew violations to throwing objects at officers.

The department says that since the protests began last Friday, Detroit Police made a total of 419 arrests. Just 135 of those arrests were of Detroit residents.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Mayor Mike Duggan have repeatedly said that outside agitators have incited unrest at some protests, providing the rationale for the city’s week-long 8 p.m. curfew. They’ve warned people from other cities and states not to use Detroit as a staging ground for their political agendas.

“Agitators, from not just outside of our city but in some cases as far away as Washington, D.C., Ohio, and Tennessee, began to agitate the crowd and assault police officers” at some protests, Detroit First Assistant Chief Lashinda Stair told police commissioners on Thursday.

Stair said Craig decided to let peaceful protesters continue to march in violation of the curfew on Wednesday night, because department intelligence showed “absolutely no indication that there would be any violence.”

Stair said three Detroit officers have been injured during the protests: one when firecrackers were thrown at a police cruiser, another suffered a slight concussion when struck in the head with a brick, and a third had abrasions from an unspecified incident. Stair also said the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters sign was vandalized, and three police cruisers had broken windows.

Some protesters have also accused officers of using excessive force. The Commission’s Interim Chief Investigator, Lawrence Akbar, said the commission has received 10 formal civilian complaints about alleged officer misconduct, but also received a “record number of telephone calls”—43—about police protest behavior on Wednesday.

Commissioners, meeting via Zoom on Thursday, also heard from a number of people during public comment, most of them lambasting the police department for its handling of the protests.

One of them, Detroit resident Franklin Long, told the commission that he attended a peaceful protest on Sunday, and thought the police response was excessive.

“I do understand when they get out of hand, you guys as police have to do what you’ve got to do to get the bad ones out the way,” Long said. “But I was there peacefully.”

Long, who said he wears a “machine” because he has heart failure, described being threatened with tear gas and rubber bullets. He said he felt too frightened to return to future protests.

“I understand, [if] they’re tearing up the city, do what you got to do,” Long said. “But for people on their knees that aren’t doing nothing…it’s like, they’re doing too much.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio 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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