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Bankole: Detroit Police Department needs new direction

Bankole Thompson

A blistering report last week alleging that the narcotics unit of the Detroit Police Department is fraught with corruption, including drug officers planting evidence on suspects, robbing drug dealers, lying to prosecutors in search warrants and stealing money, calls for urgent reform of the police force.

A fair criminal justice system requires that officers follow the law. We need constitutional policing, not vigilante policing. It’s time to push for serious and lasting reforms of community policing strategies.

Detroit police chief James Craig and director of the Professional Standards Section Chris Graveline address the media

MoreDetroit police probe yields allegations of widespread corruption in drug unit

MoreDetroit police chief: Longstanding culture of drug unit corruption

The damaging allegations, which police Chief James Craig intimated in a news conference last week, are part of a culture in the drug unit that detrimental to the work of the entire department. It’s a new low for DPD, whose reputation has taken some serious hits lately over its insistence on the use of facial recognition technology as well as an internal audit that depicted racist behaviors by some cops within the department.

What is remarkable is that Mayor Mike Duggan hasn’t commented publicly about the issue since the latest corruption scandal was revealed. It's a disturbing pattern on the part of the mayor, who tends to remain silent over troubling policing issues unless he is forced to take a position.

What the mayor should realize is that he can’t govern a city with a police force that is increasingly losing credibility in the eyes of the public. There can’t be any meaningful recovery taking place in a city with a broken police department.

Detroit cannot afford to have criminals in uniform parading as legitimate law enforcement officers. And this is a national issue. 

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor expounded on the dangers of allowing police misconduct in a stinging dissent three years ago when the court ruled that evidence discovered in an unlawful police stop could be used in court so long as an outstanding warrant was discovered along the way. 

Sotomayor wrote that the ruling “says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy, but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged."

She added, “We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are ‘isolated.’ They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

From left, Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Lt. Charles Flanagan

Change, as we know, starts at the top. Craig should let a third party agency lead this effort to transform our Police Department into something Detroiters can trust.

We’ve been down a similar road during the administration of former Mayor Dennis Archer, when the U.S. Department of Justice placed the police department under federal oversight for unchecked police authority.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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