By January 21, 2015
DETROIT, MI – Some members of the Detroit Police Commission, including Chairman Willie Bell, believe there’s a coordinated effort underway to strip the citizen-led police oversight body of its power.
The Detroit Police Commission, which under the 2012-revised Charter is authorized to discipline officers, conduct chief searches, review and approve the annual budget, policies and procedures of the Department, much like City Council, lost its powers when Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr took office in March of 2013.
In his third to last order as the emergency manager, Orr restored power to Mayor Duggan and Detroit City Council, but only a portion of the Detroit Police Commission’s power.
No longer must Duggan or Craig receive Commission approval for budgets, disciplinary action or policy and procedure changes.
And that is how it will remain, at least until Dec. 10, when Orr’s order expires and the City Council is able to reinstate the Detroit Police Commission power.
Willie Bell, a 30-plus-year police officer who retired from the Detroit Police Department in 2003, was elected chairman of the Police Commission last year. He spoke of a meeting in October with Duggan during a Michigan United-organizer panel discussion about police oversight at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit Tuesday night.
“What really frightened me was the mayor, Mayor Duggan … ” Bell said, “he indicated, primarily, he wanted us to be a review board. He thought there was too much power given to the Board of Police Commission that’s been around since 1974.”
Unless there is another voter-approved Charter amendment, it appears the Commission will at some point regain its power, but Bell wants to ensure it happens as soon as possible.
“It’s the strongest model of police oversight in the country … “Bell said. “That’s what concerned me, the mayor took an oath, he raised his hand to say he would uphold the Charter …
“You’re going to tell me that you’re going to just ignore the City Charter … that you want us to be a review board?”
MLive Detroit did not receive comment from Duggan or his representatives regarding Bell’s claim that the mayor wants to remove Commission oversight even after December.
“The Police Commission today has the ability and responsibility to play a vigorous role in investigating citizen complaints regarding police conduct,” Detroit Corporate Counsel Butch Hollowell said in an email statement to MLive Detroit Wednesday. “It is an important citizen oversight body, even with the limited powers they have due to the standing Emergency Manager order.
“Many aspects of city government remain under EM order, at least until December 10th, which is the first anniversary of the city’s exit from bankruptcy. The Police Commission is no different in that regard.
“During the next year, the Police Commission should be focused on working with the administration, City Council, law enforcement and key community stake holders to determine national best practices for police commissions to ensure the safety and rights of our residents,” Hollowell said.
The Detroit Police Commission, created in 1974 under Mayor Coleman D. Young, is, as Bell said, one of the most powerful police department citizen oversight bodies in the nation.
Because of this, the Police Department is forced to be transparent and receive approval in a public setting before making important Department decisions.
The oversight, however, creates additional bureaucratic red tape and the possibility for infighting to slow down or impede the chief’s ability to manage the department and resources.