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Detroit — Police officials have changed the way internal affairs investigations are handled after a recent review of the department's Professional Standards Section uncovered supervisor negligence and a backlog of cases.

During the review, which began in January, discipline cases and complaints against officers were found to have languished for as long as four years without being investigated. In some cases, supervisors didn't check the backgrounds of officers who were accused of wrongdoing, police officials said.

"There's a problem with how discipline cases were being handled," Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. "In two cases, we found that command officers had dismissed complaints against officers without bothering to look at the officers' discipline histories.

"In one of the cases, which was a demeanor complaint by a citizen, had the commander looked, he'd have seen this officer has a history of similar complaints, and I doubt the case would've been dismissed," Craig said. "That's problematic."

The chief added: "Cases were falling into a black hole, and arbitrators were ruling against the department because the cases weren't being investigated in a timely manner."

Craig said the problems were uncovered by Cmdr. Elaine Bryant, commanding officer of the Professional Standards Section; and Chris Graveline, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who serves as the civilian director of the section. Both began their assignments in January.

"They've both done a fantastic job uncovering some concerning issues," Craig said. "We can't go back and change the outcomes of those previous cases, but moving forward, they're overhauling the system so these issues don't come up in the future."

Among the changes: Discipline cases must be adjudicated within a year of the launch of an internal investigation.

"A lot of discipline cases were being overruled by the arbitrator, who told us it was because of a lack of timeliness on our part in getting these cases investigated," Craig said. "So I imposed a one-year statute of limitations."

Some cases will be exempt from the one-year rule, including instances where there are parallel criminal and internal investigations, Craig said.

"Sometimes adjudicating an administrative case before a criminal investigation is complete can cause problems," Craig said. "But for the most part, other than a few exceptions, there's no reason for these cases to take longer than a year to adjudicate."

Bryant said it's important for both citizens and officers to quickly wrap up investigations into alleged wrongdoing.

"We want to ensure that citizens have an answer to their complaints in a timely manner, but also that the officers don't have to wait a long time with charges hanging over their heads," Bryant said. 

Graveline, a former U.S. Army officer and Wayne County assistant prosecutor who in 2018 ran for state attorney general as an independent candidate, said he brings a "fresh set of eyes" to the process.

"With my background as a prosecutor, I'm not coming at it from a DPD or a police point of view, but from a different vantage point," said Graveline, who as an assistant U.S. Attorney worked on the Detroit One anti-violent crime and the Ceasefire anti-gang initiatives.

"What we found was, we needed to reinvigorate the (internal affairs) process from top to bottom: From discipline, to make sure they're following through in a timely way to get charges out; to making sure commanders look at the totality of circumstances; to our force investigations, to make sure those are done in a timely manner.

"We've seen investigations that have been in the office for two, three and four years," Graveline said. "There can be a variety of reasons why those cases linger, but facts become murkier as time progresses, which is why we need to bring these cases in faster."

ghunter@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2134
Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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