Detroit — In light of clashes between citizens and police in Ferguson, Mo., Detroit police officials are taking steps to quell unrest in the city following an incident Wednesday in which an unruly crowd here had to be dispersed after officers shot a suspect.
A crowd gathered near Berkshire and Nottingham on Wednesday after Detroit police officers opened fire on a pair of men when they reportedly tried to run the officers down with their SUV. Police say the officers witnessed the men illegally purchasing a gun.
One of the suspects was shot in the arm and taken to an area hospital. The other man was arrested.
In the wake of the incident, the crowd reportedly became so unruly that other units had to be called in to help. Some in the crowd, upset because officers shot one of the suspects, reportedly invoked the situation in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where tensions are high after officers shot and killed a man some witnesses say was unarmed and trying to surrender. Police there say the man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, tried to grab an officer’s gun.
Protesters in Ferguson on Wednesday threw Molotov cocktails at officers, who used tear gas and smoke bombs to disperse the crowd.
During Wednesday’s situation in Detroit, one man crossed the yellow police line and allegedly tried to attack an officer, who used pepper spray to stop him. The man was taken into custody.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he’s taking steps to calm citizens, considering what’s happening in Missouri.
“My view is to keep dialogue with the community open,” he said Thursday morning. “There may have been some upset over Ferguson and expressed their frustration during our investigation (Wednesday).”
Craig said he will instruct his neighborhood police officers to reach out to the community. In March, the chief launched the NPO program, with help from a Skillman Foundation grant, to strengthen ties between police and the community.
“Our plan is to ensure our NPOs are in the neighborhoods maintaining communication,” Craig said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Police Department is nearing the end of federal oversight, which the city agreed to in 2003 to avoid lawsuits alleging police misconduct including brutality and deplorable conditions of confinement. Prior to the agreement, there were several shootings by officers that some say hadn’t been properly investigated.
U.S. Department of Justice officials say the police department has since made significant steps toward fixing the issues that necessitated the three consent decrees.
Last week, Detroit law officials and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a joint motion in federal court asking a judge to terminate the oversight, and Justice entered an 18-month transition agreement with the police department, in which federal authorities would review Detroit police internal audits and conduct onsite visits to ensure police department reforms are sustained.
Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, who was instrumental in bringing federal oversight to the city, said there’s still a rift between many citizens and police.
“I think the situation in Ferguson could easily happen here,” he said. “We saw the tip of the iceberg last night, where the smallest thing could spark an incident. People feel disrespected, with the stop-and-frisk policy, and all these militarized raids.
“It happened in ’67, and it could happen now. I’m not hoping for it; I’m not advocating for it, but I’m just saying there’s tension in the street.”