Panel that found Detroit police bias to be reorganized

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The activity of an internal Detroit police committee whose recent report described the department as having a “growing racial problem” has been placed on hold and will the panel will be reorganized, said Police Chief James Craig on Tuesday.

“Without going into what the new (Committee on Race and Equality) would look like ... CORE will remain, but it will look different,” Craig said. “I think we have to put the safeguards in because the work is important. We need to have a pulse on the work environment. Morale is very important to me. We’re not afraid to address issues that can be controversial, but we have to call the work what it is. It’s not an investigation.”

Craig’s comments during a live-streamed media briefing Tuesday follow a grievance filed by the police officer’s union that took issue with the CORE report that cited black officers’ complaints of discrimination from white superiors and retaliation when the issue of bias was raised. The union questioned the validity of the report, which it says were not based on facts.

“I have to pay attention to the issues raised by the union,” Craig said. “It’s no secret that the release of the report, conversations surrounding the report has created a lot of concern among the rank and file. Not just ranking members in the organization, but our police officers.”

The program, begun in February 2016, includes 15 police staff members who gathered their findings through confidential interviews with fellow officers. The report also cited concern for gender and sexual-orientation matters.

On Monday, the Detroit Police Officers Association announced it would file a policy grievance with the Police Department and request that committee members cease activity.

Craig said in response to the grievance that he has had conversations with Mark Diaz, president of the union.

Diaz said Tuesday he does not want one report based on alleged claims to thwart the efforts of the committee, which the union views as another watchdog entity.

“The chief and I are moving forward with ensuring those concepts, the preservation of members’ rights, are going to be upheld,” he said.

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

He said the allegations in the report, drafted by CORE in 2016 and released last week, paints a false picture of the department. Diaz called the report “reckless” and took issue with a former committee co-chair, retired police Officer John Bennett.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality had called for the release of the report, noting that Bennett had cited the committee’s work on his Facebook page. Craig released the report Thursday after receiving numerous media requests. He said the report was based on “rumors and innuendos” and was never intended to be released to the public.

Bennett has defended himself in the media, saying that he was only the messenger and that he did what was asked of him during his involvement with the committee. He said that when the report was submitted in August, Craig found no fault with it. The program’s other co-chair was Officer Joseph Weekley.

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.

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