Editorial: End of federal oversight affirms progress

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There’s been no better sign of the progress Detroit is making toward becoming a fully functional city than the Police Department’s release this week from more than a decade of federal oversight.

The Detroit Police Department was placed under a federal monitor in 2003 to avoid a massive civil rights lawsuit dealing with conditions in its lock-ups and the treatment of suspects. A three-year investigation by the Justice Department uncovered rampant incidents of brutality, false arrests and illegal detentions. The department was a mess.

Over 11 years, half-a-dozen police chiefs and four different mayoral administrations, the city struggled to comply with requirements of the consent decree. Costs rose into the millions of dollars, as the city learned that getting out from under the thumb of the federal government is no simple task. Compliance efforts were often half-hearted and poorly directed. One of the monitors, a Washington-based attorney, had to resign after an escapade with former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

The department made considerable gains under previous Chief Chester Logan. But it was new Chief James Craig who finished the job, convincing federal Judge Avern Cohn that the conditions that led to the consent decree no longer exist.

Barbara McQuade, the U.S. attorney in Detroit, affirmed that the department has significantly reformed its use of force and witness protection practices, as well as other procedures that ran afoul of the Constitution.

A key measure in determining Detroit’s progress was use of force. From 1995 to 2000, Detroit cops fatally shot 47 suspects. Over the next five-year period, 2009 to today, that number dropped to 18.

The unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, underscore the significance of that statistic. Better training and better techniques in dealing with potentially volatile situations have helped create a police force better accepted by residents. But it also reflects a greater respect on the part of the department for the community.

Craig has accelerated the community engagement efforts, attempting to actively involve citizens in law enforcement. He is steadily breaking down Detroit’s no-snitch culture.

The results can be seen in a much higher closure rate for homicides. Before Craig took over, Detroit solved as few as 11 percent of the murder cases in the city. Today, Craig claims that number is above 80 percent.

Sending the message that criminals can’t get away with their crimes is an important deterrent to illegal activity. And that doesn’t happen without a community and a police department working together.

Such cooperation is bred when residents truly believe police officers are on their side.

Judge Cohn’s conclusion that Detroit has left behind the dark period of its history when police too often treated citizens as if they were the enemy should further build on the trust Craig is trying to build.

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