MI Compassion Posted May 28, 2010 Report Share Posted May 28, 2010 http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1992425,00.html?hpt=T2 When Warren Evans took over as Detroit's police chief last summer, he came on strong and got results. Evans deployed a Special Response Team (SRT), using military-style tactics and weapons to handle ordinary police actions like traffic stops. At a time of cutbacks to the police force, he seemed to be effectively doing more with less. Last month, Evans called a press conference to tout his progress. The average police response time to priority 911 calls had shortened nearly 28%, to 24 minutes, from the time taken a year earlier. Recorded homicides declined 25%. Now Evans' paramilitary approach to police work is under attack. The criticism comes in the aftermath of a new wave of violence that included the death of a 7-year-old girl who was accidentally shot by police during a raid of a home. Earlier this month, five Detroit police officers were shot, one fatally, while investigating a reported break-in at an abandoned building. When Evans appeared on a local TV program Sunday, he wearily summed up his experience so far in one of America's toughest jobs: "It's cloudy some days. And some days, it rains all day. It's been doing a lot of raining lately." (See pictures of crime in Middle America.) So far, Evans has the support of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. But the mayor also told the Detroit News this week that Evans is "aggressive," and said a deputy mayor will be "reining him in." Changes may come after state and federal investigations of the May 16 killing of the 7-year-old girl, Aiyana Stanley-Jones. A short, relatively trim man in his early 60s, Evans faces a unique challenge in taming Detroit's violent crime, one of the biggest barriers to the city's comeback aspirations. He commands a force of barely 3,000 officers — down from about 4,000 just a few years ago — who patrol an often sparsely populated territory of nearly 140 square miles. (Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston could fit within Detroit's borders, with room to spare). Detroit's police are spread so thin that some citizens have lost confidence officers will respond swiftly to 911 calls. That's why some of the city's remaining middle-class neighborhoods have hired private security patrols. (Listen to a podcast on violent crime in Detroit.) Evans came to the police chief's job with an impressive pedigree. Born into one of Detroit's prominent black families, he seemed destined to be in charge of something. In the early 1900s, just as Southern blacks began moving en masse to take part in Detroit's auto boom, Evans' grandfather helped found one of the city's first hospitals to allow black doctors to practice. Another relative was among the first sheriff's deputies of Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit. Civil Rights–era figures like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael were regulars at the Evans family home, where a biweekly newspaper, the Illustrated News, was printed in the basement. In 1970s, Evans joined the Wayne County sheriff's office, and rose quickly. After getting a law degree, he worked briefly as an assistant prosecutor, handling police shooting and drug cases. In 2003, he was appointed sheriff, a job whose main purpose is to manage the county jails. His ascent seemed to stall last summer, when he ran for mayor against steel magnate Dave Bing and got only 10% of the vote. But last year came a shocking incident, in which seven students standing at a bus stop in one of Detroit's bleakest neighborhoods were shot, that provoked a shake-up in the police department. Bing asked his former rival Evans to become police chief, declaring, "We don't have time to wait. Our children aren't safe." Evans quickly made his presence felt, joining beat officers patrolling Detroit's neighborhoods, often with reporters. He moved more than 100 officers from desk posts to street patrols. He broadened the mission of the SRT squads beyond hostage situations and bank robberies to bring an intimidating force to more routine police work. He also created a mobile Tactical Strike Force, which rotated about 150 officers from the department's gang squad and other units to deliver a surge of police presence in crime-tossed neighborhoods. An increase in traffic stops, police officials say, has led to the arrests of scores of people with unauthorized guns and driving without licenses. The SRT is at the center of the current mess. Shortly after midnight on May 16, members of the SRT arrived at a two-story white house on a tree-lined street in Detroit's East Side. The officers had a warrant to search the house for a 34-year-old man believed to have shot and killed a high-school senior two days earlier. Officers claimed they announced their presence and then tossed a flash grenade through the front window of one side of the duplex to disorient the people inside. Then, police say, a 46-year-old grandmother in the front room struggled with an officer. Police say an officer's gun then discharged, fatally shooting the woman's 7-year-old granddaughter Aiyana. The death drew a broad outcry. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who spoke at Aiyana's funeral last Saturday, said her death "should be a wake-up call, not only for the authorities, but for those of us in the community who have allowed this violence and recklessness for too long." Detroit is not the only city to go the paramilitary route. Since the 1980s drug war, experts say, many local police departments have developed such units, often with surplus U.S. military gear. Initially, the units responded to hostage situations. Increasingly, they're used proactively to search for illegal contraband, like guns and drugs, says Peter Kraska, professor of criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University and author of Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System. Local police have a fundamental mission: to use the minimum amount of force to bring criminals to justice. That's a very different mission from that of the military: to destroy the enemy. "When the two missions get blurred," says Tim Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, it can become a recipe for excess. "When these paramilitary units are called out to execute violent raids on these homes, it's taking on the attributes of an urban war zone," he says. There's very little oversight: officers assigned to such squads often get a few days of training, with no national standards. "This is a big free-for-all," Kraska says. With at least one lawsuit filed against the police department in the wake of the May 16 shooting, Evans has remained out of public view in recent days, except for last Sunday's television interview in which he defended his department's paramilitary strategy. "No big city can do without a Special Response Team," he said, describing the SRT as "a specialized unit that's very well trained. Their job is to get into places where there's a significant potential for danger." So far, however, his department has refused to clarify its rules for deploying the squads — or the use of flash grenades. He declined to be interviewed for this article, and the department has not yet publicly commented on the lawsuit. Adding fuel to the debate is the marriage of police work and show business. Detroit loathes its reputation for crime, but seems to have marketed itself as a fixture for crime-related reality-TV shows. The debate about the influence of TV cameras cuts two ways. On the one hand, cameras may provide a watchful eye and prevent abuse. But the presence of a video crew from the TV show The First 48 on the scene of Aiyana's shooting has prompted questions about whether the cameras incited police to become more aggressive. The police chief compounded the issue by appearing in a promotional video for a prospective reality-TV show called The Chief. The video reportedly showed him standing in front of the abandoned Michigan Central Station holding a semiautomatic rifle. Mayor Bing said Monday that he has banned TV crews from Detroit police patrols. Even in a city desensitized to violence, the mood is tense. "How do you think people are supposed to live on the streets when the police are violent like that? They're causing more problems, not solving them," says Gerald Evans (no relation to the police chief), 44, who claims he was attacked by several Detroit police gang-squad members without cause last March. Ron Scott, head of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, says his warnings to Bing and Evans that the paramilitary strategy may prove to be counterproductive "have fallen on deaf ears." The police chief's next moves will be watched closely. "I don't think the chief is out there like some crazy guy who doesn't know what the hell he's doing," Bing told the News. "I think among the criminals that are out there, there is some fear about this chief and what he's attempting to do." The chief may have the criminals on the run, but now his job is to make sure the law-abiding residents of Detroit are standing behind him. — With reporting by Kristy Erdodi / Detroit Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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