Detroit -- Mayor Dave Bing said Monday he has banned reality television crews from tagging along with police units, and chided Police Chief Warren Evans for not telling him about the practice of allowing TV cameramen to join officers on raids.
During an interview with The Detroit News, Bing described Evans as "aggressive." Bing also said the chief is still making the transition from being an elected official as former Wayne County Sheriff to heading the city's police department.
Bing said Deputy Mayor Saul Green, to whom Evans directly reports, is working with the chief to tone down what Bing called an aggressive policing style.
"Saul is reining him in," Bing said.
The mayor stressed that he thought Evans was "part of the solution" to the city's crime problem, and that some of his methods seem to be working, as reflected by a lower number of homicides and non-fatal shootings since the mayor fired former chief James Barren and replaced him with Evans in July 2009.
Crime -- and Evans' response to it -- have become flashpoints in the wake of shootings this month that have resulted in the deaths of at least three teenagers, a grandmother, a police officer and a 7-year-old girl.
Bing reiterated Monday in an interview with The News' Editorial Page Editor Nolan Finley that he does not have an answer to the violence, but stressed the need for the police and community to work together to find a solution.
"The police are here to help," Bing said. "Are they perfect? The answer is no. But they're not the enemy."
Bing spokeswoman Karen Dumas said having reality TV crews on hand during raids "gives the wrong appearance" to the public that police may be altering their normal procedures to make for more entertaining television.
"We don't want to convolute the process," Dumas said, adding that local media outlets will still be allowed to do "ride-alongs."
"We'll assess that on a case-by-case basis," Dumas said.
'That's the end of that'
Cameras from the true-crime television show "The First 48" were rolling the morning of May 16, when the police department's Special Response Team, looking for a murder suspect, executed a raid on an eastside flat that ended in tragedy.
Officers threw a flash grenade through the front window before rushing into the flat on Lillibridge Street about 12:40 a.m. Details of what happened next have varied.
According to the police, when Officer Joseph Weekley entered the front room, he had some form of physical contact with 46-year-old Mertilla Jones. The officer's gun went off, piercing the neck of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was sleeping on the living-room couch. She was dead on arrival at St. John Hospital.
Aiyana's family has refuted the police version, saying Mertilla Jones made no contact with Weekley, and that after the shooting, officers took her into custody and held her for 12 hours, testing her hands to see if there was any gunpowder on them, before releasing her.
Bing said he has seen the film footage of the incident, but that it showed nothing conclusive.
"With my untrained eye, I can't determine what ... happened there," he said. "I saw flashes, and (officers) went into the house, but other than that I don't know what happened. We got to get somebody else that's got a trained eye (to look at the film)."
Bing said he wasn't aware of the police department's policy of allowing film crews on raids until after Aiyana's death.
"When we found out (that a camera crew was on the scene), I immediately called Warren and Saul and (said), 'That's the end of that,' " Bing told The News.
The contract with "The First 48" was signed six years ago, before Bing became mayor and during former police chief Ella Bully-Cummings' tenure as chief, although Bing said Evans renewed the contract, which does not involve compensation for the city.
"(Evans) said he signed an ... extension of what was already there," Bing said. "He said he didn't pay much attention to it -- but the fact of the matter is, his handwriting is on the agreement."
Bing also said he was concerned when he saw a six-minute promotional trailer for a proposed reality TV show, tentatively named "The Chief."
The trailer reportedly shows Evans posing in front of the Michigan Central Depot station, holding a semi-automatic rifle and vowing to rid the city of crime.
"(Evans) came to us after the fact and said: 'I've got this teaser that this group is looking at,' " Bing said. "We saw it and we said: 'Hell no -- don't make that public. You've got to cancel that; that's not going to happen.' But the teaser thing was already out, so it's public knowledge. And it's not positive in my opinion."
Evans declined comment, and Green did not return a telephone call.
Criticism and praise for chief
When Evans was appointed chief, he promised to use data to target high-crime areas of the city. He instituted a "Mobile Strike Force," a team made up of several special squads that floods communities where statistics show a spike in criminal activity.
Bing acknowledged that Evans' methods have drawn criticism from the community. For instance, complaints against the Gang Squad have shot up by more than 300 percent since Evans became chief, said Mohamed Okdie, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.
Amidst the criticism, Bing also praised Evans.
"I don't think the chief is out there like some crazy guy who doesn't know what the hell he's doing, but his M.O. is: He's aggressive, and it is (drawing complaints)," Bing said. "But I think among the criminals that are out there, there is some fear about this chief and what he's attempting to do. And he's had some success at it."
Bing said statistics reflect a decrease in crime. "But when the community or a family is directly impacted by a crime they don't feel that way," he said.
When asked if Evans was the right man to get a handle on the city's crime problem, Bing said: "I think he's part of the solution. Has he made mistakes? I think he would probably say 'Yeah, I've made some mistakes.'
"Being an elected official as sheriff and being chief of police for the city of Detroit is different."
Bing added: "As an elected official, he can act independently; and as an employee of this city and this administration, he can't. So there's a transition for him."
Bing said Evans has been talking with Deputy Mayor Green, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and a federal monitor for the Cincinnati Police Department when it was under a federal consent decree similar to the one currently imposed on the Detroit police department.
"(Evans) reports directly to Saul, and they're talking," Bing said. "Their personalities are 180 degrees different. But Saul is reining him in, if I can use that term."
Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, has often criticized Evans' methods, calling for a collaborative effort between police and the community. Scott called Bing's statements about reining Evans in "a good first step."
"I respect that the chief has a philosophy; I just don't think it's what this city needs right now," Scott said. "I hope that Saul Green and the mayor will be cautious with people who are acting independently. The chief and I talked last week about having a meeting. I'm willing to meet with him; hopefully he'll listen to what the citizens have to say."