July 7, 2009 at 1:00 am

Detroit Police fail to meet terms of consent decree

Detroit -- Mayor Dave Bing said one of the reasons he made Warren Evans his new chief of Detroit Police was the department's failure through six years of federal oversight to comply with terms of a consent decree aimed at rehabilitating an abusive department.

Faced with a massive civil rights lawsuit in 2003 that alleged Detroit Police subjected suspects and witnesses to "excessive force, false arrests, illegal detentions and unconstitutional conditions of confinement," former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick signed an agreement aimed at overhauling the department under the supervision of U.S. District Judge Julian Cook.

Kilpatrick vowed, "We will fix it now."

More than half a decade and millions of tax dollars later, little progress has been made, according to an independent risk assessment company appointed to measure the efforts.

The latest quarterly report, issued in April, found the department is in compliance with only about 36 percent of the total agreement.

The department must show it is in complete compliance for an entire year before it can escape federal oversight. But reports issued quarterly by Kroll Inc. show the city never has come close to complying with even half of the requirements, and the department has suffered frequent backsliding. The latest report shows a decline of 1 percent from the report issued in April 2008, but a vast improvement over the 15 percent compliance rate reported in November.

Evans has experience working with court decrees. The Wayne County Jail's multiple facilities have operated since 1971 under court order that requires the release of nonviolent offenders whenever inmate population exceeds the 1,800-bed limit.

The mandate to improve the Detroit Police Department stemmed from a 30-month federal investigation that found more than 110,000 people were detained in temporary holding cells during 2000 alone. Some were deprived of food, and many were held for days without warrants or access to court, lawyers or a telephone. Some weren't even criminal suspects, but were simply witnesses to crimes.

Estimates of the cost to the city of meeting the list of requirements contained in the 203-paragraph agreement have been as high as $100 million. But one of the independent auditor's complaints has been the city's failure to provide an adequate auditing to determine the real costs.

The latest report cites numerous instances of failure to comply with paperwork requirements, including follow-up investigations on incidents of officers who were initially ruled to have been justified when they failed to follow violence avoidance protocols. Of 94 annual officer performance evaluations reviewed by the monitor, 69 were flawed through outdated forms and evaluations.

The department isn't allowed to issue collapsible batons to officers because no one has been given training in their use. The department fell out of compliance on the use of chemical sprays because officers and their supervisors are failing to properly document incidents. Of 11 use-of-force incidents in police holding cells, two violated policies, knocking the department out of prior compliance with the rules.

The department was in compliance with a major category of concern when the decree was signed -- the illegal warrantless jailing of witnesses, sometimes for days at a time. But the report noted the department had fallen out of compliance with a requirement to get all arrested criminal suspects formally charged in court within 48 hours. The department violated this basic constitutional right more than 25 percent of the time.

Of 61 arrests reviewed during the three months, 40 were properly referred to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office for charging warrants within 24 hours. This 65.6 percent compliance rate was reported as "notable progress."

Some progress has been made. Cost-cutting consolidation of the department has resulted in the demolition of many of the old precinct buildings and their antiquated holding cells. A Holding Cell Compliance Committee reported seeing no prisoners handcuffed to benches or other stationary objects from September through December.

The department still has a hard time handling complaints about itself. Of 48 complaints examined in the latest report, it took 110 to 748 days to close 43 of the investigations.

The department's Management Awareness System, which is supposed to help police investigators and commanders share information and compile statistics, continues to be plagued by computers that have insufficient memory, fail to interlink or even have consistent electricity to power them.

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