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Detroit Police Chief Plans Overhaul of Department

May 22, 2002
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Detroit Police Chief Plans Overhaul of Department

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - Police Chief Jerry Oliver says a U.S. Justice Department civil rights probe into his department could be completed within months, but he already has plans to make changes.

Oliver told the City Council on Wednesday that he hopes the Justice Department will issue its findings about how to fix the department by the end of the year.

The Justice Department had no comment Wednesday, the Detroit Free Press said.

Federal officials launched the civil-rights probe into the 4,300-officer department in December 2000 and have been investigating allegations of excessive use of force, illegal dragnet arrests and mistreatment of prisoners.

Oliver told The Detroit News that

Investigators have expressed concern about several areas, Oliver told The Detroit News. They include use of deadly force, citizen complaints, substandard holding cell conditions, bad food for prisoners, dirty precincts and lack of privacy for female prisoners in precinct holding cells.

"There has been a lot of work done already," Oliver said. But he said future changes could include:

-Issuing small retractable batons and other non-lethal weapons, including tasers - commonly known as electric cattle prods - that would give officers an alternative method of defending themselves.

-Hiring a nationally known police-training expert to supervise all department training, including how and when to use lethal and non-lethal force. A revamped training bureau reporting directly to newly appointed Assistant Chief Ella Bully-Cummings would design the program.

-Appointing a deputy chief to strengthen the department's disciplinary procedures and make it easier for Oliver to fire bad officers.

Oliver said whatever changes are suggested or implemented, federal oversight of the department could continue for three to five years.

If federal investigators conclude that the department's problems are rampant, they could go to federal court to force costly overhauls.

Pamela Evans, deputy chief for the police department's risk management bureau, said department officials had cordial meetings with federal investigators in Washington several weeks ago.

But Oliver said whether or not a court order is issued, the department needs to make changes.

In recent years, Detroit has paid $124 million to people who sued the police department. On Wednesday, the city agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by two years ago by Samuel Harris. The Detroit resident said he was mistakenly beaten by narcotics officers who were carrying out a raid on his street in 1999.

"We are going to straighten out this issue and it's not going to be easy, but we're going to be moving to bring back, honor, integrity, and honesty to the Detroit Police Department," Oliver said.

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