Coleman: Restore the Detroit Police Commission’s power

Ken Coleman

As we approach the anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion on Thursday, it’s time to restore fully the powers of the civilian review police commission. After all, city voters approved such a body when they OK’d a revised charter nearly four years ago.

The body has 11 members, seven of whom are elected and represent the city’s seven legislative districts. Former Mayor Coleman A. Young convened the first meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners on July 22, 1974, after decades of police brutality and abuse against far too many of its residents most of whom were black. The city’s nasty history included the 1948 police fatal shooting of a fleeing 15-year-old Leon Mosley of the Black Bottom community; and the 1963 killing of unarmed Cynthia Scott. Both were shot multiple times in the back by Detroit cops.

Kevyn Orr, the former city emergency manager, stripped the body of much of its review powers and relegated its members to ceremonial back benchers. Under the city’s bankruptcy agreement reached last year, power was restored to city officials, but not the Detroit Police Board of Commissioners.

Before state control in 2013, the city’s board of commissioners hired the police department’s director of personnel. The body had budget oversight, imposed disciplinary actions, offered promotions and managed civilian complaints.

Mayor Mike Duggan has essentially shrugged and pointed out that Orr’s action had all the vested power and authority of state government and that Michigan cities have limited home rule.

That’s unfortunate because we Detroit voters got dissed—again.

I’m deeply concerned that we live in the city that is occupied by men and women with badges and guns who don’t live here, according to a published report and a public comment by a former chief.

Local law enforcement has a better opportunity do its job when men and women donning blue and packing pistols know and understand the communities in which they serve.

The Detroit Police Department will be a more accountable agency when a civilian review board has oversight of its actions and activities.

If every neighborhood has a future as Mayor Duggan has continually suggested, the will of thousands of city voters should be respected. He should either advocate for or restore himself the board’s full civilian oversight powers.

Anything less is unacceptable.

Ken Coleman, an author and historian, is a lifelong Detroiter and a former Detroit Charter Revision Commission member.