(DETROIT) -- Mayor Dennis Archer recently met with U.S. Justice Department officials to modify his request that the agency conduct a probe of fatal shootings by Detroit officers. That he now wants a limited rather than a full-scale investigation may be prudent. Based on the extent of the federal probe in the Los Angeles police corruption case, Mayor Archer may want to personally assume responsibility for a remedy.
Mayor Archer recently met with Bill Lann Lee, the acting Assistant Atty. Gen. for Civil Rights, and Detroit U.S. Attorney Saul Green to discuss his original Sept. 26 letter. It called for a detailed review of all police shootings, an evaluation of police investigative procedures, and a probe into the city's relationship with the U.S. Attorney's Office and Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.
Since then, Justice Department officials say the mayor has asked that the department not conduct a broad review under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which allows federal officials to investigate "a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured and protected by the Constitution."
According to Mr. Green, the mayor now wants "something more along the lines of technical assistance" to help resolve what a series of reports in The Detroit News has said were 47 fatal police shootings since 1995. More than $10 million has been paid to settle lawsuits arising from the incidents.
Revisiting the earlier request could ultimately prove to be in the administration's best interest. The mayor might avoid what occurred four years ago after the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division special litigation section got involved in an inquiry in Los Angeles. That investigation turned up clear evidence of egregious misconduct.
In excess of 100 state convictions were thrown out and almost two dozen officers were relieved of active duty resulting from a scandal in which officers in the city's poor, largely minority Rampart section allegedly shot, beat and planted evidence on innocent people, then committed perjury in testifying against them.
The Justice Department threatened to bring a federal civil rights lawsuit against Los Angeles if the city resisted federal oversight. The mayor and City Council of Los Angeles reluctantly agreed to a consent decree that put the Police Department under an independent monitor's supervision. "I am philosophically opposed to this consent decree because it undermines a core belief of mine," said Mayor Richard Riordan. "That local government must be accountable to its people, not to a distant bureaucracy."
The idea of local accountability is worth preserving, if possible. By seeking help from the Justice Department, Mayor Archer's original request may have put a temporary damper on mounting public discontent over police shootings occurring in Detroit. But it also risks the loss of local control.
Mr. Archer has always had the authority to amend police policies and procedures. The problems in the department are serious. The mayor, working with Chief Benny Napoleon, should consult with the Justice Department, but take responsibility for putting things right. That will solve the department's problems while preserving local control.
(iSyndicate; The Detroit News; Nov. 26, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.