Detroit police board revises use of force rules, OKs ban on chokeholds

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit police officers can no longer use chokeholds and must intervene when their colleagues exert unnecessary force, according to new guidelines the city’s Board of Police Commissioners approved.

The updates to the city Police Department's use-of-force practices voted on Thursday are “sweeping changes that will bring immediate reforms," the board said in a statement on its website.

A protester is taken into custody by police personnel after staying out after curfew, which they did on purpose in order to get arrested, on Gratiot Avenue near Outer Drive in Detroit on June 2, 2020.

Besides chokeholds and intervening, the new policy directives also “require a de-escalation continuum and a minimal reliance on force” and set measures for reporting when an officer threatens to use force, commissioners said.

Other changes require expanding reports of use of force, discipline, and other types of data available for the public on open data portals.

The guidelines were part of proposals the board made in June and submitted to the department as well as the community amid protests following George Floyd’s death during a police encounter in Minnesota on May 25. Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed.

“In roughly two months, we have changed, we have reformed,” said Willie Bell, the board chair, in a statement. “I want to thank all the Police Commissioners … for showing that Detroit’s 46-year-old civilian oversight process is robust and effective, and that progress happens when the community and police work together.”

Detroit police officials were not immediately available Wednesday night for comment on the revisions.

The board, which oversees the Police Department, had worked with Chief James Craig and police officials to follow through on the modifications.

In July, Craig announced an executive order, slated to last a year, that said officers have a duty to intervene if they see other police commit wrongdoing. Violations of that policy could lead to termination.

Police officers congregate on the corners of Grand River Ave. and Meyer St. after a police involved shooting, July 30, 2020, in Detroit.

His announcement during a virtual police board meeting came hours before a man was fatally shot by city officers after reportedly wielding a sword and throwing a dagger at an officer. He was the fourth person shot by Detroit police in July and the third fatality.

On Monday, the group Detroit Will Breathe sued the city and the department, alleging officers engaged in "unnecessary, unreasonable and excessive force" during ongoing protests against what they say is a racist criminal justice system.

Included in the federal lawsuit's allegations are claims that since demonstrations started in late May, peaceful protesters have been "tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, beaten and otherwise subjected to unconstitutional excessive force, shot with rubber bullets ... put in chokeholds ... and arrested en masse without probable cause."

The lawsuit described the protests and demonstrators as "peaceful" 28 times. Craig has said agitators have thrown hammers, "a boulder" and other projectiles at officers, along with someone pointing a laser at a police helicopter pilot.