Hey Hey, Detroit!

We’re building a public record here with your help. As much as we put into this newsletter, there’s even more worth sharing. After our meeting recaps, you’ll find a “Documented by” link where you can read more notes from the meeting, often a live-tweet thread, a transcript and recording, presentation slides, images and other documentation. When you have any questions about what you read, send them our way.

Public safety was on the minds of Detroiters a lot this past week. We’ll introduce you to our new project documenting juvenile courts; a group of residents working with the city to plan for safety in their neighborhood; an animal safety ordinance in Highland Park and more. If you want to discuss safety for young people, save a spot at BridgeDetroit’s Youth Public Safety Townhall next Tuesday. We capture what we can, but there’s so much more to share we just might start a new newsletter. Stay tuned… 

“They need a warrant if they’re going to walk into peoples’ homes.”

—Highland Park City Councilmember Khursheed Ash-Shafii, asking that language regarding law enforcement be added to the proposed changes to the Animal Ordinance

The Scoop

Amid crisis at detention facility, Documenters are covering juvenile court hearings

Documenters have collaborated with the Detroit Free Press over the last two months to cover five juvenile court hearings. The work is part of the paper’s efforts to bring attention to overcrowding, violence and other issues at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans declared a public health emergency last month at the facility, calling the situation “untenable.” The facility can handle 80 juveniles comfortably, but is currently detaining nearly 140 young people — many of whom have been waiting more than 100 days to be placed into a longer-term facility. 

Free Press reporter Christine MacDonald said having Documenters make a record of these hearings is critical to oversight as a recent law change restricts public access to juvenile court records. 

The hearings have been a critical way we at the Free Press have been able to report on dangerous conditions at the county’s juvenile jail,” MacDonald told Documenters. “And we hope this partnership with Detroit Documenters and Outlier leads to even greater transparency into how youths, as well as their parents and guardians, are affected as they pass through the larger juvenile justice system.”

Our notes don’t include any identifying information of young people to protect their privacy. 

All five of the Documenters who covered the hearings virtually were questioned about their presence by the prosecutor or the judge. One prosecutor objected to the Documenter being in the hearing, but the judge in that case allowed the Documenter to stay in the virtual courtroom as an observer. 

During a different hearing, a judge interrupted an attorney complaining about being unable to reach anyone at the juvenile detention facility. The judge said there was an observer present and she didn’t want any more negative narratives of the facility.

During one of the cases covered by Documenter Bridget Scallen, the defense attorney asked the judge to make her leave. Scallen said the attorney didn’t seem to trust her promise to respect their client’s privacy. The attorney said a competency evaluation could be embarrassing for the attorney’s client. The judge approved and made Scallen leave the Zoom courtroom.

“Being suddenly ‘boxed out’ was stressful and precluded me from gaining insight to note any particular issues for the Free Press and our public interest,” she told Documenters.

Documenters will continue monitoring the hearings until the situation at the facility improves.

Special Assignment – Documenting Juvenile Courts
Documented by A J Johnson, Bridget Scallen, Colleen Cirocco, Pamela Taylor and Sonja Stuckey.


City News

Housing, Development, Politics, Policing

HOUSING:

The Detroit Continuum of Care (CoC), a planning body “working toward ending homelessness” in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park, is seeking a new lead agency for its Coordinated Assessment Model (CAM), the way the CoC connects services and shelter to those in need.

CoC conducted paid focus groups, surveys and interviews with 106 clients with lived experiences with homelessness. Long wait times, communication errors between CAM and shelters and general access challenges were among the common complaints with the existing CAM model. Many people who are experiencing homelessness for the first time don’t know about CAM or CoC.

Agencies have until April 17 to apply to become a lead agency, call center, in-person access point or back office for CAM. The lead agency will direct the others, and the transition to the new lead agency will happen in June. 

4/3/2023 Detroit Continuum of Care, Board of Directors
Documented by Pamela Taylor and Solly Chase.


DEVELOPMENT:

In last week’s Brightmoor Framework Plan community meeting, participants were asked to think about safety for three groups: youth, adults and seniors. 

Participants said young people require benches and shelters at bus stops and safe paths to school. 

Adults were concerned about the quality of the roads, the police and drivers. Bikers don’t feel safe because of the debris on paths, blight, dumping, stray dogs and speeding cars. 

In addition to walkability and traffic safety, older adults were concerned about the high cost of groceries and having to stand in the cold at food pantries during the winter months. 

One resident mentioned flooding in the area. City planners said they would need to engage the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in a separate community meeting. 

Urban agriculture is the focus of the next community meeting on April 19 at 6 p.m. at Crowell Recreation Center. 

4/5/2023 Detroit Planning and Development Department, Brightmoor Framework Plan
Documented by Colleen Cirocco and Devyn McNaughton.


POLITICS:

Highland Park City Councilmember Khursheed Ash-Shafii voted “hell no” to the city’s Animal Ordinance. However, his objections weren’t to the changes to the ordinance (see Page 11) to include a description of a vicious dog; and detail what would be done about animals left in parked cars. 

Instead, Ash-Shafii objected to the fact that there were no changes to the ordinance about the authority of animal control officers. He was concerned that the ordinance did not specify the need for a warrant for law enforcement to enter someone’s home. The city attorney said the ordinance does say probable cause is required to enter a home. 

Ash-Shafii also thought the penalty for violating the ordinance — a misdemeanor charge with up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail — was too severe. The city attorney said the ordinance needed to “have teeth,” but charges are “typically” dismissed if the fine is paid immediately. The ordinance was approved, 4-1.

4/3/2023 Highland Park City Council
Documented by Amber Umscheid and Jenna Kirk.


POLICING:

Only five of Detroit’s 11 police commissioners showed up for their weekly board meeting. 

Lacking a quorum, Parliamentarian Frances Jackson informed the board all it could do was hear public comment and a presentation from Board Secretary Victoria Shah. Commissioner Willie Bell got up and left, apparently uninterested in what the public or Shah had to say.

Following public comment, Shah presented some hiring issues facing the board. She informed commissioners that the job offer for chief investigator had been declined. Shah mistakenly referred to the candidate as Brianna Lockhart, even though commissioners voted to send an offer to Courtney Blakes last week. Not a single commissioner questioned the name slip-up.

When Documenters asked about the candidate, Shah confirmed the mistake, saying “I’m not sure how no one caught that.” We were thinking the same thing.

Once again, the board needs to find, and then hire, a chief investigator.

4/6/2023 Board of Police Commissioners
Documented by Alex Klaus and Heidi Ausgood.


Regional News

TRANSPORTATION:

Since February 2022, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) Transportation Safety Task Force has developed a new Southeast Michigan Transportation Safety Plan to replace the existing 2015 plan. 

The new plan incorporates the Safe System Approach and what SEMCOG is calling the “6 E’s of Safety”: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Emergency Medical Services, Equity and Evaluation. Examples include efforts to promote safe driving, enhancement of post-crash care and incorporation of traffic-calming street design

The Safe System Approach, developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, prioritizes the elimination of crashes that result in death or serious injuries. This falls in lockstep with Vision Zero, a strategy that recognizes roadway users will inevitably make mistakes but the mistakes don’t have to be fatal.

Following review by SEMCOG’s committees and a period for public comment, the plan will be sent to the General Assembly for final approval at its June 22 meeting.

4/4/2023 SEMCOG, Transportation Safety Task Force
Documented by Perry Sylvester and Roshaun Harris.


More Coverage

Detroit City Council, Formal Session (4/4): The council appoints Laura Goodspeed as auditor general and hears more than two hours of public comments. 

DWSD Board of Water Commissioners committee meetings (4/5): About 2,800 Lifeline Plan enrollees have missed their last payment of $18. DWSD rolls out average water consumption rates this spring.


Question of the Week

Documenters often cover the board meetings of the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA), but sometimes find it difficult to identify who is present and speaking at the meetings. This led us to ask… 

Who works at the Land Bank?

DLBA spokesperson Alyssa Strickland said there are about 150 full-time employees at the land bank. While all the names are not available on the DLBA site she provided Documenters with a list of board members and staff more likely to be at the board meetings.


Callout

Detroit bailiffs and the 36th District Court eviction system

This week’s newsletter was about public safety and we would be remiss not to condemn the fact that several housing justice advocates were met with violence by bailiffs deputized by the 36th District Court or movers hired by those bailiffs when staging a nonviolent eviction defense last week. 

Taura Brown, who was evicted from her home, is a Detroit Documenter. Because of that relationship, Outlier Media has not covered this event in detail, but our collaborators BridgeDetroit and Detroit Metro Times have. 

In light of all the pleading with city officials Detroit Documenters have heard during public comment for safe, affordable housing, fewer evictions, and a fully funded right to counsel — and because public safety includes being safe from excessive force by law enforcement or court officials — we have to ask the city and the courts: Did it have to go down that way? 


Follow-Up

Last month, Documenters reported that students have found problems with the drinking water at The School at Marygrove, and presented their findings to the DPSCD school board. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti promised to follow up with the students. Since then, the water fountains have been tested and filters replaced.


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Get Involved

Upcoming training and events

BridgeDetroit Youth Public Safety Townhall
Tuesday, April 18 6-8 p.m. at Chroma, 2937 East Grand Blvd.
Reporters at BridgeDetroit want to hear from young people on their perspectives on public safety. Tickets are free — reserve your spot

Now hiring: Part-time Fundraising and Marketing Associate
Outlier Media is hiring someone who can help us strategically grow and connect more meaningfully with current and future donors. Full details are available in the job description

In-Person Orientation
Wednesday, May 10, 5-7:30 p.m.
Join us at TechTown for a special in-person orientation with two, one-hour trainings. In the first hour, we will introduce you to the Documenters network and show you how to apply for paid public meeting assignments. In the second hour, we will learn more about local government and how to monitor it for the public good. Pizza will be served!

Documenters who have not received their Public Meetings badge are encouraged to attend — but space is limited, so register now

Lynelle (she/her) likes working with Documenters because she thinks it’s important for us to share our news and our voices with our neighbors and networks. Her favorite spaces in Detroit are the urban gardens that promote peace, hope, health and healing.

Noah (he/him) believes people benefit their communities when they create civic media and commit acts of journalism. He enjoys being anywhere with live music or tacos.

Malak (she/her) believes in local journalism that provides people with verified and comprehensive information. Her favorite places to unwind and pick up a new read are at Detroit’s bookstores and libraries.