Detroit to add complaints against cops to crime data

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The U.S. Attorney’s Office began monitoring the Detroit Police Department in 2003 after it was accused of covering up use of excessive force by cops. Now, as the oversight ends, that information will soon be available to everyone.

Within the next 30 days, the department plans to launch a program that will allow unprecedented public access to department data online, including complaints against officers and police runs to problem areas.

Officers’ names won’t be made public, but the nature of each complaint by precinct will be available.

“With all the things that are going on around the country, police departments are being criticized for being secretive,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. “If you want to build trust, you can’t act like you’re hiding something.”

The initiative, expected to be announced this week, is part of the White House Public Safety Data Portal, which has 37 participating police departments. The Detroit information will be integrated into the crime data on the city’s website.

The police department in 2003 agreed to federal monitoring and a list of changes to avoid a civil rights lawsuit alleging suspects and witnesses were subjected to excessive force, false arrests, illegal detentions and unconstitutional conditions of confinement.

After 16 years and $50 million, the U.S. Attorney’s Office determined the department had made significant improvements and oversight ended in August 2014, although monitoring continued during an 18-month transition period that ended Tuesday.

“Now that we’re no longer being monitored federally, it’s important we continue the progress we made and not fall back into the old ways,” said Capt. Aric Tosqui, who is in charge of the data program. “So let’s be open, and let’s empower people with information.”

Tosqui organized community meetings. as part of the program planning. “This whole project is for the citizens, so I wanted to see what kind of data they wanted, and how they wanted it presented.”

Citizens were most interested in seeing crime in their neighborhoods, Tosqui said, so, crime data is searchable by community.

“The police department looks at crime by precinct and scout car area, but people think in terms of their neighborhoods.”

Corktown resident Debra Walker, who attended some of the community meetings, said she appreciated police seeking citizen input.

“In my neighborhood, we want to know about larcenies and car thefts, since those are the things that happen most often here,” she said. “I’d like to know if there are trends, and have the police department communicate those trends. If they’re looking for a certain type of car, or if crimes are happening at a certain time of day — those are the things that would be most helpful.”

Assistant Police Chief James White, who led the effort to get the department in compliance with the federal consent decree, said police will withhold information about sensitive crimes, such as criminal sexual conduct, child abuse or domestic violence.

Citizens will be able to check on police calls for service in their neighborhoods, although addresses won’t be posted, to protect people’s identities, White said. The information that’ll be made available will be the nature of the complaint, what time it happened and the general area.

“It’ll give an area within 150 yards of an address, so people can see what’s happening in their communities without knowing exactly who is involved,” White said. “It’s imperative that we protect people’s identities.”

Data already available on the city’s website includes the type of crime, when and where it occurred, and details such as whether a gun was involved, and whether a violent assault or homicide involved family members.

Indianapolis police, one of the 37 departments involved in the data portal, has officer complaint data online. The information includes allegations against officers ranging from “rude, discourteous, or insulting language,” to “unreasonable force” to “improper parking” at a scene. The action taken by the department is also posted.

Detroit’s data will come from complaints to the Office of the Chief Investigator, which is part of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.

Commissioner Ricardo Moore urged citizens to lodge formal complaints if they have a problem with an officer.

“A lot of times people will complain, but they won’t file a complaint,” he said. “But if something isn’t documented, then for all intents and purposes it didn’t happen. An officer might have done the same thing three or four times before, but if nobody filed a formal complaint, that behavior can’t be tracked.”

Moore and Tosqui also warned about underreporting of crime. Moore has long complained that crime numbers are skewed because people don’t report everything to police.

Tosqui agreed.

“The most underreported crimes are property crimes like burglaries,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important for police to develop a good relationship with citizens, so they feel comfortable letting us know what happens. Then, we in turn can make that information available to everyone, so they’ll be able to stay on top of what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”

(313) 222-2134