Police union seeks to disband group that alleged bias

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Police Officers Association on Monday called for disbanding an internal Detroit police committee whose recent report described the department as having a “growing racial problem” and citing black officers’ complaints of bias from white superiors.

The allegations in the report, drafted by the Committee on Race and Equality in 2016 and released last week, paints a false picture of the department, said DPOA President Mark Diaz during a news conference Monday at the union’s headquarters.

“The creation of the document by a former committee co-chair is not based on fact, but implied racist practices within the Detroit Police Department is not only reckless, but obviously and deliberately an attempt to deteriorate the great relationship our police officers and our Police Department, and worked to harbor with our citizens,” Diaz said.

Diaz said the committee co-chair he referred to is retired police Officer John Bennett, whose mention of the department assessment on his Facebook page prompted the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and the media to request that Detroit Police Chief James Craig release the report.

During a news conference Thursday, Craig said the claims of racism in the report were based on “rumors and innuendos.” However, Craig said that CORE would remain a standing committee, which the DPOA took issue with Monday.

Diaz said the union plans to file a policy grievance with the Police Department requesting that the committee and its members cease activity. The union is prepared to take the issue to arbitration, Diaz said.

Michael Woody, director of media relations for the Detroit Police Department, said Monday afternoon that neither Craig nor the department released an official statement regarding the association’s request. He said the earliest the department would respond is Tuesday.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, which had called for the report’s release last week, on Monday questioned the DPOA’s “pushback” on the Police Department’s internal report.

“Mark Diaz says he’s never heard of any racist incidents from DPD officers, said coalition spokesman Kenneth Ree. “That is a statement ridiculous on its face. It is shameful that he would have the audacity to criticize a fellow officer (John Bennett, who authored the report) on the very day that we celebrate the man most responsible for breaking the yoke of racism in this country, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

The CORE program, begun in February 2016, includes 15 police staff members who gathered their findings through confidential interviews with fellow officers. The program’s other co-chair was Officer Joseph Weekley.

Bennett said Monday that he is being considered the fall guy.

“I’m just the messenger,” he said. “I provided a document the chief asked for and I retired. People are scurrying under cover. ... In August, when I gave Chief Craig the document, he found no fault with it. Now it’s four months later and it’s rumor and innuendo, and I’m reckless and rogue.”

According to the document, the committee received reports of numerous incidents that directly or indirectly involved command staff in discriminatory practices, including intimidation and retaliation.

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.

The report included 19 recommendations.

Diaz said that the union, which files about 270 grievances annually, has heard no claims of racism in the department.

“The first entity that would have heard of a grievance or a complaint regarding systemic racism or any means of discriminatory practices within our department, ... would have been the people standing before you today,” Diaz said referring to his fellow union officers. “We did not hear those complaints. There is no factual basis that we can attribute to the correspondence between that committee and the chief of police.”


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