Detroit police board, union wrangle over missed meeting

George Hunter
The Detroit News
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Detroit — The president of the Detroit Police Command Officers Association union is calling for an apology after a member of the Board of Police Commissioners said a captain showed a “lack of courage” by failing to appear at a recent meeting to discuss an order for officers to meet a ticket quota.

But instead of an apology, Commissioner Reggie Crawford, a longtime police officer who has worn leg irons to recent meetings to protest the board’s lack of power under an order by former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, responded: “I can’t breathe.”

That was in reference to the death in New York of Eric Garner, whose last words were “I can’t breathe” after police officers wrestled him to the ground on suspicion he was selling loose cigarettes. During the videotaped encounter, one of the officers placed Garner in a chokehold that ultimately killed him.

The issue with Crawford began Dec. 2, when officers from the 11th Precinct received an administrative order that said: “Every scout car is required to make three (3) traffic stops per shift and issue six (6) tickets.” The order had precinct Capt. Timothy Leach’s name typed at the bottom.

When officers complained to Detroit Police Officers Association union President Mark Diaz, he contacted Chief James Craig, who agreed the directive violated a state law banning quotas. Craig said he investigated and found a sergeant had misunderstood a conversation with Leach, and mistakenly typed Leach’s name to the order, which Craig immediately rescinded.

Crawford told The Detroit News on Wednesday he wanted Leach to appear at the Dec. 11 commissioners meeting to discuss the matter.

“I felt since the 11th Precinct affects the residents of my district, they deserved to have the captain come to the meeting and discuss the issue in public,” Crawford said.

Crawford said he was informed by email Leach wasn’t required to come to the meeting. “I was told the matter was resolved, but nobody had informed me,” he said.

During the meeting at the Butzel Center, Crawford criticized Leach’s failure to appear.

“If Capt. Leach isn’t here, in my opinion, that represents a lack of transparency on his part, and also … a lack of courage,” he said.

Capt. Aric Tosqui, president of the Command Officers Association wrote a letter to Board President Willie Bell on Dec. 12, asking Crawford to apologize and explaining Leach didn’t come to the meeting because he had attended a fundraiser for India Williams, the 7-year-old girl who was paralyzed in a September drive-by shooting.

“However, even if he was not formally excused from attending the Commission’s meeting, publicly discrediting his character as a Command Officer … sends the wrong message to the public about its police department,” Tosqui wrote.

Bell said: “I think it was a poor choice of words by Commissioner Crawford. I will respond appropriately to the letter.”

Tosqui told The News Wednesday: “The mission of the board is to instill public confidence in the police department through objective oversight. For Commissioner Crawford to publicly disparage a ranking command officer like that goes against the board’s mission.”

Crawford, who spent more than 20 years as a Detroit Police Officer, and is a Wayne County Sheriff’s deputy, said the incident is the latest effort to render the board powerless.

“This is about trying to shut down our voices,” Crawford said. “I spoke with Capt. Leach about this, so I don’t feel an apology is necessary. I’ve written my response in big letters: ‘I can’t breathe.’ ”

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