Training, reform will make for better cops, group says

George Hunter
The Detroit News

More funding and training for police is one way to bridge the trust gap between law enforcement and citizens, members of Congress and community leaders said Tuesday after a forum on criminal justice reform.

“Having been a mayor, I know the responsibility of policing a city,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield. “We have to make a commitment: Police have to be funded. If I don’t have a trained police force, then I get what I get."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said there’s a trust problem between police and many citizens.

“These issues ... will not be solved overnight,” he said. “This kind of discussion needs to take place across America.”

Richmond and Goodlatte are part of the bipartisan Congressional Policing Strategies Working Group, which met at Detroit’s federal courthouse for its first roundtable discussion on how to fix problems in the criminal justice system.

Goodlatte and Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, announced last month the formation of the group, which aims to examine police accountability, aggression toward officers and citizens’ public safety concerns. The action was spawned by recent tragedies in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Dallas; Milwaukee; and other communities.

Since the July 7 attack that killed five Dallas officers — one of whom is a former Wayne County sheriff’s deputy — 20 officers have been killed in the line of duty nationwide, 13 of whom were shot, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks police killings. This year, the website lists 37 police officers fatally shot in the line of duty, up 61 percent during the same period in 2015.

The congressional group and local officials met the morning after Detroit police said they arrested a man after he allegedly threatened to “kill that pig” in a Facebook thread lauding a city cop for delivering school supplies to children.

Police Chief James Craig said Monday he’s taking the threat seriously amid what he called a “hostile environment” for cops.

“Just last week, we had officers fired on,” he said, referring to an Aug. 23 incident in which a man allegedly opened fire when cops were called to break up a fight over a craps game on Detroit’s west side. “We’ve seen so much of this anti-police rhetoric lately, it’s ramping people up.”

According to the 3rd Circuit Court website, the man had not been charged after turning himself in to police last week. Craig said police will request charges be filed against the man.

Goodlatte said Tuesday members of Congress are working on “a series of bills that speak to criminal justice reform.”

One of the bills being debated is the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act, which was sponsored last year by Conyers. The bill would require the U.S. Department of Justice to “analyze existing law enforcement accreditation standards, recommend additional areas for the development of national standards, recommend the adoption of additional standards and adopt policies and procedures to encourage accreditation of law enforcement agencies,” according to the U.S. Congress website.

Conyers told reporters: “This discussion has been candid and insightful in terms of how we implement reforms to the criminal justice system. I remain optimistic that we can move this subject in a way that’s going to be beneficial to not only law enforcement, but the community as well.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a Detroit native, added: “We’re going to go to other cities to listen so we can formulate good policies to help our country evolve.

“We could make every city in America completely safe, but that would mean kicking in everybody’s door. We have to balance safety with freedom, and it’s not always easy.”

Goodlatte said the group plans to visit other cities for similar discussions, although they have not been chosen yet.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said police need to “treat everyone not as animals, and not as being criminals until they prove otherwise.” She added there needs to be an emphasis on training officers to de-escalate situations.

Detroit resident Lindsey Mason, of the Citizen Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, said Tuesday’s forum was fruitful.

“As a young African-American male, it gave me hope that America is truly addressing the problems each African-American male has to deal with every day,” he said. “But the work isn’t done yet. We talked about it. Now it’s time for action.”

The latest Facebook threat against Detroit police came as Wayne County prosecutors declined to charge three other men who were arrested last month for allegedly threatening police on social media.

The case against a fourth man was sent back for more investigation by Detroit police, who are still working the case.

In separate incidents, police arrested the four African-Americans after they allegedly posted comments that included: “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter. Kill all white cops,” and “It’s time to wage war and shoot the police first.”

The suspects were arrested on traffic warrants and later released.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said there was insufficient evidence to charge the three men, it couldn’t be proven the comments were written in Wayne County and police did not give them their Miranda rights.

“The postings on Facebook are disturbing, especially since they are directed at the police who place their lives on the line each day to protect the public,” Worthy said in a statement. “However, in order to have a case we can prosecute, we must be able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

“These cases are very serious and the police investigation must be equally serious and thorough. DPD has many fine investigators, but the work in the four Facebook cases was substandard. When this happens, we must request further investigation. We cannot fly by the seat of our pants in charging cases.

“The police are trained to know when they must give Miranda rights, and they are aware that a viable case is not possible with Miranda violations and no other evidence. ... We must be able to prove our cases lawfully. We will follow the law even when we detest the allegations.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN