The Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) has spent more than $55,000 in taxpayer dollars on compensation for two employees placed on leave amid multiple criminal and administrative investigations.
Recent efforts to terminate the employees failed at the board’s Aug. 3 meeting, where commissioners were divided 4-4 with one abstention on a motion to remove one of the employees. Prior to the vote, there had been no public discussion of the staff members’ continued employment or the terms of their leave.
BOPC staffers Melanie White and Lawrence Akbar were placed on leave in March by former Board Chair Bryan Ferguson. Ferguson sent out a news release on March 29 saying the board and staff were being investigated by the city’s Office of the Auditor General, the city’s Office of Inspector General and the Detroit Police Department Internal Affairs unit. In the release, Ferguson mentioned the removal of select staff but did not mention them by name. Ferguson has since resigned after being caught engaging in illegal activity.
The Office of Inspector General seized two years worth of police complaints records in February. Akbar served as the board’s interim chief investigator at the time and was responsible for overseeing complaint records. Neither Akbar nor White have been accused of wrongdoing nor is it clear why they were put on leave.
BOPC Board Chair QuanTez Pressley told Outlier Media that there was no input from the board or a vote on the decision to put White and Akbar on paid leave. He said he and other commissioners were surprised when Ferguson made the decision. A month after being appointed as chair, he brought the issue up with the full board.
It’s “highly unusual” for appointed positions to be placed on paid leave, said Denise Starr, the city’s human resources director. She believes White and Akbar are the first BOPC staffers to be placed on paid leave.
“That is usually a leave only used for police officers while something is being investigated,” Starr told Outlier Media. “HR was not consulted when the board made this decision and issued the paid leave.”
For three years, White and Akbar were occupying the positions of board secretary and chief investigator on an interim basis until the board filled those roles in March and May of this year. White and Akbar then returned to the jobs they held before they were moved into the secretary and chief investigator roles.
White, who has been working at the BOPC since 2001, served as the executive manager of police with a salary of $91,998 when she was put on leave, according to Starr. Akbar, who has worked for the board since 2006, served as the supervising investigator for the Office of the Chief Investigator with a salary of $88,456. Both are being paid out their full salary while on leave, each making more than $7,000 a month.
Board Secretary Victoria Shah said no one has been hired to cover White’s or Akbar’s duties while they are on leave.
Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett told Outlier that the commissioners have the authority to appoint individuals to and remove them from appointed staff positions.
Pressley said at the Aug. 3 meeting that continuing to pay White and Akbar is an irresponsible use of taxpayer money. Commissioner Linda Bernard said the board should wait until the investigations conclude to make any decisions, because while they are employed, they are required to comply with interview requests from investigators.
The city’s Office of the Auditor General has not responded to Outlier’s request for an update on its investigations into the board.
Deputy Inspector General Kamau Marable told Outlier Media that the Office of Inspector General’s current investigation is in the “later” stages, but the office doesn’t know yet when the investigation is expected to end. The Detroit Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit is also nearing the end of its investigation into BOPC staff and will report its findings to the board, said Sgt. Jordan Hall, a DPD spokesperson.