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Sparks fly over police response times at board meeting

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Assistant Police Chief James White

Detroit — Thursday's Board of Police Commissioners meeting got heated, with a board member accusing an assistant chief of lying about police response times.

Assistant chief James White answered questions from board members about a recent report by WXYZ (Channel 7), which alleged police took more than an hour to respond to 650 priority one emergency calls over a 20-month period.

White said during the meeting at Public Safety Headquarters that the report didn't accurately reflect police response times. He claimed the report only highlighted a handful of negative instances and didn't tell the whole story.

"It's not fair to take a few cases and put a blanket over the whole department," White said. He said average police response times hover between 12 and 13 minutes, which he said is an improvement.

"I'm not celebrating," White told the board. "I don't have confetti in my office; we still need to improve ... there are some areas of concern, which we are addressing."

Police commissioner Willie Burton.

Commissioner Willie Burton then began berating White.

"You're a liar," Burton said. "You compromised your integrity by lying about response times."

Several members of the board told Burton he was out of order. White replied: "You will not call me a liar publicly."

Acting chairwoman Lisa Carter called for a five-minute recess. When the board reconvened, Carter apologized to White.

"I do not appreciate the words that were said," Carter said. "It’s unprofessional and it’s not what we’re about. So I want you to accept my apologies."

White  replied: "I also want to apologize to the board. I believe in decorum and professionalism ... those comments were outrageous. There's no position on this earth worth my integrity; my integrity is not for sale.

"I'm absolutely disappointed and insulted by this commissioner," White said. "But I also know the (television) cameras are on in the back, and he needs a sound bite."

"It's not about a sound bite," Burton cut in. Carter repeated that he was out of order, but Burton continued yelling at White, prompting Carter and other board members to tell him to be quiet. 

Burton left the room for a few minutes before returning. The meeting continued without further incident.

Earlier this month, Burton sent a memo to his fellow commissioners asking the board to call in Police Chief James Craig to discuss a Jan. 25 article posted on the website Deadline Detroit that claims police are slower to respond to crimes committed in the city's low-income communities.

Detroit police officials insisted the article was inaccurate. 

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN