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Demote the Detroit Police Commission

The Detroit News

Detroit City Council should not return oversight power to the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners when it is legally allowed to do so next fall. The board should instead function strictly as an advisory body on relations between the police department and Detroit residents.

An order from Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr in late September transferred the police board to Mayor Mike Duggan’s control, and he’s indicated he might push for the commission to serve an advisory role only. Its oversight power has been limited since Detroit entered bankruptcy.

That’s a sound plan.

The police commission is an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy that opens the door for cronyism and meddling. The new city charter gives it too much leeway to come between the mayor and the police chief, and sets up the potential for contradictory policing policies.

Since the mayor bears ultimate ,accountability for the safety of the city, he should appoint the chief of his choice and work with that chief to craft public safety strategy. The commission’s role should be as a voice for citizens, perhaps with some watchdog responsibility.

It should not be involved in hiring and assigning of officers, or in the deployment of resources.

Craig is doing a good job in cleaning up the department and improving its effectiveness as a crime fighting force. Though he was hired by Orr, he and Duggan seem to have established a productive relationship. Public safety is too critical to Detroit’s comeback to risk derailing that early progress.

City Council should follow Orr’s example in limiting the board’s power, and recognize that the police department should be accountable to the executive branch. If not, Duggan should push for a ballot initiative to rewrite the charter.

The 11-member board has four members appointed by the mayor, and seven who are elected. It is empowered to rule on proposed changes in command structure, executive hiring and firing, and officer discipline. Those decisions should be left to the police chief.

While board members objected to their amended powers before City Council, the reality is that many boards in Detroit are under the same limitations as the city emerges from bankruptcy.

It is vital that the city streamline and coordinate decision-making to maximize resources. An elected mayor and council should provide all of the citizen representation necessary to protect the public interest.

Adding another layer of elected leadership with broad authority to interfere in police operations sets up the potential for needless conflict and confused policymaking.

The benefits of an advisory board are obvious — giving citizens a conduit to carry their concerns to decision makers. There are no benefits to an oversight board with the power to overturn executive decisions and establish conflicting agendas for the police department.