Report: ‘Growing’ racial problem in Detroit Police Dept.

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The Detroit Police Department has a “growing racial problem,” according to an internal report released Thursday that cites black officers complaining of discrimination from white superiors and retaliation when the issue of bias was raised.

The Committee on Race and Equality, known as CORE, also cited concern for gender and sexual-orientation matters. The program, begun in February 2016, includes 15 police staff members who gathered their findings through interviews with fellow officers.

The committee received reports of numerous incidents that directly or indirectly involved command staff in discriminatory practices, including intimidation and retaliation, the report said.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig called the findings, which The Detroit News received through a Freedom of Information Act request, an assessment of the department and not an investigation.

“I disagree in part,” he said of the report during a news conference at police headquarters Thursday. He said most of the instances cited were based on what he considered perception, rumors and innuendos.

The report alleged “imbedded racial attitudes and behavior exhibited by some in the command staff.”

“It was determined that the problems within the department were isolated cases of officer to officer but more widespread ... top-down entrenched discriminatory practices. Simply put, the racism that exist(s) in the department trickles down from command officers to the rank and file,” the report said.

Craig said he announced the findings Thursday after receiving numerous requests for the report’s release. The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality had called for its release earlier in the week, noting that CORE program co-chair, retired officer John Bennett, had cited the assessment on his Facebook page. The program’s other co-chair was Officer Joseph Weekley.

“These conversations were to be confidential in nature and the participants were to remain anonymous,” the department said in a news release Thursday. “... Chief Craig received a copy of this report which he believed to be confidential, as the allegations against the members named were based on rumors and they had not received due process.”

Craig said that none of the complaints have led to disciplinary action. Open investigations are mainly through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“I’m not dismissive that there are not race issues or implicit bias that exists,” he said. “It exists everywhere in America. However, we take those issues very seriously...”

The report redacted the names of several police officials most often named for disparate treatment of African-American officers. One of them, a commander, is African-American and on one occasion was said to have called an African-American male officer the N-word, according to the report.

Among the committee’s other findings were that black officers reported retaliatory tactics aimed at officers who saw bias in advancement to the detective rank.

“A few white command officers were blatant in their attacks against black officers who voiced their dissatisfaction with the exam or sought redress through the collective bargaining process,” the report stated. “There were common threads in all of the testimony given; repeat offenders amongst the white command officers.”

The department, which is 67 percent African-American, the report said, has units such as Crime Analysis, Cease Fire/Gang Intel and other task force units “that are not seniority based which are segregated.”

“These units have been historically, overwhelmingly staffed by white male officers,” the assessment found.

African-American officers also reported that white command officers would call white officers on their personal cellphones to tell them about training or job openings in the segregated units. When a black officer complained, there would be retaliation such as having their request denied for a leave day or transfer, according to the report.

The report listed 19 recommendations, including revamping training selection and diversity training, making history of the city and the Police Department “a greater part” of recruitment and training, and two-year mandatory uniform patrol for all new hires.

Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality spokesman Kenneth Reed said he was concerned about the impact such instances could have on the residents.

“Where is the leadership?” he said. “I’m sure that with this racism from the command structure down to rank and file, I’m sure this causes a morale problem. With a morale problem you may have officers who take their frustrations out on the citizens.”