Detroit council restores police civilian oversight body

Joe Guillen, Detroit Free Press September 29, 2015
DFP Brewster

The Detroit City Council today voted to restore full powers to a civilian police oversight board that were stripped away while the city was under emergency management.

Once back at full strength in December, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners will have final say on employee discipline and will play a role in shaping the department’s budget and policies.

“Today we take a step closer to fully restoring democracy here in the city of Detroit,” Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said. “Communities in this city deserve a fully functioning police commission to ensure justice, peace and civility are at the forefront.”

Beyond the empowerment of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, the council is expected to take further action before the end of the year to undo other changes made by former emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who issued 44 orders during his tenure. The City Council can amend any of Orr’s orders by passing resolutions effective Dec. 10 — one year after the city was removed from emergency management — or later.

The commission was established in the 1974 to provide civilian oversight at a time when a combination of aggressive police tactics and changing demographics in Detroit increased tension between residents and police.

“We’re on the cutting edge in terms of oversight in the city of Detroit,” commissioner Willie Bell said. “We want to continue that legacy.”

Despite the board’s reduced powers, Bell said the commission would not have handled any policies or decisions differently while the city was under emergency management.

Bell, Sheffield and members the Detroit Pastoral Alliance for Change held a press conference this morning to stress the importance of restoring the board’s powers, particularly at a time when police departments in other major cities struggle with community relations.

Mayor Mike Duggan supports the move, chief of staff Alexis Wiley said.

“Their mission’s critical to the city’s mission, and we’re really happy about this resolution moving forward and look forward to working with them in the future,” Wiley said.

Contact Joe Guillen: 313-222-6678 or jguillen@freepress.com.
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