The Board of Police Commissioners received a six-page report in January reviewing their citizen complaint process as well as the Detroit Police Department’s approach to reporting use of force cases, but the board has still not published or discussed its findings.
The findings included discrepancies between citizen complaint data collected by BOPC and the data found on the city’s Open Data Portal. It also included how DPD and BOPC’s separation of complaints into “allegations” is problematic and revealed formatting issues and unclear reporting in DPD’s reports on use of force investigations — including failure to show how often police fire weapons.
The Wayne State Police Accountability Task Force performed the review during the summer of 2021, after the BOPC requested an independent review in May of that year. David Goldberg and Alex B. Hill were the Wayne State University professors who compiled the report that September, in collaboration with a WSU student and some BOPC staff members.
The report was first shared with the board in December 2021, and then again the next month with the board, which had three newly elected members, said Teresa Blossom, the BOPC’s community relations coordinator. This means that returning commissioners received the report at least twice.
The report reviewed the 2020 annual DPD Use of Force statistics and the BOPC’s citizen complaints data for the 2019 calendar year and the first three months of 2020.
Goldberg said its mission was to make the public aware of the lack of transparency in the police department.
“(The report) never emerged publicly from the Board of Police Commissioners or the Detroit Police Department to my knowledge,” Goldberg said.
Hill said their team has not received any communication from the police commissioners, and they are not sure if any of the recommendations were shared or followed.
Blossom said BOPC publicly releases reports after they formally discuss them.
The report was briefly mentioned during the Sept. 1 BOPC meeting by Commissioner Linda Bernard who called it a “major smoking gun.” The parliamentarian stopped Bernard from discussing it further because the report was part of a presentation that was rescinded earlier in the meeting. According to the presentation, the report will be formally presented in a future meeting.
BridgeDetroit provided a Google Drive link to the report in an article earlier this month reporting several commissioners’ intentions to have a public discussion on it. However, no date for such a discussion has been set.
Commissioner Willie E. Bell told Outlier Media that the board has not formally reviewed the report because commissioners, he said, are focused on addressing the backlog of citizen complaints and current staff vacancies.
“We take that report very seriously,” Bell said. “It’s in our sight but not an immediate urgency.”
The report states that for the BOPC to be effective, it needs to continuously improve its civilian oversight role, which includes its Office of the Chief Investigator (OCI). The OCI is tasked with recording and investigating complaints against police.
In July, the BOPC reached a backlog of 850 uninvestigated citizen complaints against Detroit police. There were 217 complaints closed in August, and the board reported an additional 93 new cases.
Because of how inconsistently data was collected, the report did not analyze it. Instead, the report pointed out ways the data should be captured in order to better understand and analyze it in the future.
“The data was so bad — it was all over the place,” Hill said. “There’s no single entity bringing all the complaints together and making them standard in any way.”
One of the report’s key recommendations on this topic was that the BOPC should work with the city’s data team to make sure the data is updated consistently in the Open Data Portal.
Another recommendation from the report was to discontinue using the term “allegations” by DPD and the OCI when referring to citizen complaints against police because the term is often used in criminal matters. This could lead to confusion of the OCI’s role, which is to review non-criminal complaints.
The report also found that one complaint could include several actions by one officer and suggests separating each inappropriate action into multiple complaints in order to be more accurate.
Reach MALAK SILMI, the Report for America Corps Member for Outlier Media, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-985-0377.