News Hits recently had an interesting back-and-forth going with the Detroit Police Department regarding the two federal consent judgments it has been operating under for nearly nine years.
In advance of the latest release of the quarterly reports issued by the federally appointed monitor overseeing the DPD's attempts to comply with the conditions laid out by the U.S. Justice Department, we wanted to know why the department had not kept the promise made last year that it would be fully in compliance by the end of 2011.
The first response we received was that Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. didn't recall ever making that claim.
We noted that, in March of 2011, when this rag was working on a cover story about the issue, we were told exactly that in a meeting with then Deputy Mayor Saul Green and Chief Godbee. Maybe it was Green, who is no longer in his city post, who uttered the actual words, but the chief certainly said nothing to the contrary.
Again, we were told that the chief never claimed the city would be in compliance by the end of 2011.
So then we pointed out that Mayor Dave Bing, in his 2011 State of the City speech, told the people of Detroit that the Police Department would meet the conditions outlined in the consent decree by the end of that year.
It doesn't matter if the chief actually said it, we explained. It was the official position of the Bing administration, which the chief is a part of and is the person most responsible for seeing the Police Department lives up to expectations.
All we were asking for was a chance to interview the chief to get an explanation as to why the mayor's deadline wasn't met.
We never did get that interview. We did get an e-mail from Sgt. Eren Stephens stating:
The intent and purpose of the reforms mandated by the consent judgments is to institutionalize numerous policies and practices within the agency to ensure that the civil rights of citizens are protected, DPD members are properly trained and supervised and that comprehensive risk management practices are adopted.
To that end, the City is required to attain compliance with each of the 175 requirements at a rate of greater than 94% and to continue to maintain compliance. The City was ordered by the Court to attain compliance with the requirements of the consent judgments no later than July 18, 2012. The City and the DPD have been working methodically to that end to ensure that all of the requirements attain compliance and that practices are in place to sustain compliance going forward. Ensuring sustained compliance requires continued reviews, internal audits and inspections by the DPD to demonstrate that the reforms desired have in fact taken place.
And so we fired off another e-mail saying, in effect, that's all good to know, but it still doesn't answer our question.
Finally, we got this explanation:
Our overall goal was to achieve compliancy, but is being delayed six months due to the Detroit Police Department taking additional steps to enhance the case management and quality control processes, and installing state-of-the-art in-car video system which will automatically record patrol officers during traffic stops and other citizen's interactions.
Here's another explanation as to why the administration's promise wasn't kept:
"I thought they were blowing smoke with that all along."
That observation comes from Ron Scott, spokesman for the group Coalition Against Police Brutality. That group, by the way, was a driving force in the effort to force change in the Detroit Police Department, which in the late 1990s and early 2000s was shooting and killing civilians at an alarming rate.
Given the amount of work that remained when the mayor made his State of the City speech in February 2011, Scott had good reason to be skeptical.
The problem with making such claims is that it calls into question the administration's credibility. And that credibility is stretched even thinner when straightforward answers to straightforward questions aren't provided.
To be fair, the department has made tremendous strides toward compliance since Bing took office three years ago.
At that point, the consent decrees — one related to the use of force by police officers, the other dealing with the treatment of prisoners — had been in place for almost seven years, but the Police Department had complied with only about 30 percent of the goals set out in the judgments.
Now, according to the most recent monitor's report — released April 18, it covers the period from last Sept.1 to Dec. 31 — the city is 83 percent compliant. As monitor Robert S. Washaw notes in the report's executive summary, since 2009, the Detroit Police Department has made a serious and determined effort to comply with the requirements of the consent judgments. However, Washaw also notes that, "even with this movement forward ... it is clear that hard work, perhaps the hardest work so far, remains ahead."
And until that work is completed, the city will continue shell out about $1 million a year to pay for the monitoring. In fact, it will remain under the watchful eye of a monitor for a full year after it comes into compliance, just to make sure that the mandated changes stick.
Given all that, we tried to ask Warshaw for specifics when he came to town last week for a public meeting featuring Godbee and his command staff. And even though he took to the podium to offer some brief remarks, Warshaw told us afterward that it is his policy not to respond to questions from the press.
In fact, even though the public was supposed to have been allowed the opportunity to query Godbee and other department brass at last week's public meeting, that didn't happen.
Instead, we were treated to a mind-numbing two hours of commanders offering up percentage points and explanations as to why they are or are not moving in the right direction.
Scott, the activist, was steaming afterward. He had a fistful of questions he wanted answers to, and had waited patiently to ask them. Why wasn't the promised Q&A allowed?
"We would have been here all day," was the response provided by Deputy Chief James Tolbert.
We get that the Police Department is in a tough spot, and it's only going to get tougher as the cash-strapped city is asking that a better job be done with fewer resources.
"This is going to be as difficult a time as any of us has ever faced on this job," Godbee told the troops last week.
"This is a leadership moment," he emphasized.
Chief, we hear you. We also realize the difficulties you and the department face. But ducking hard questions isn't exactly a hallmark of great leadership.