East Bay Express: The People's Police Department
In January of 2011, 38-year-old Lamar Deshea Moore walked into the Detroit Police Department's sixth precinct and opened fire. Two officers were hit in the head with shrapnel, a commander was shot in the back, and a fourth officer was shot in the chest, although a bulletproof vest saved her from serious injury. "As you can imagine, utter chaos and pandemonium took place," Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said at the time.
"Through it all, our officers maintained courageous calm. ... They returned fire, they took cover, they did all the things we train them to do under pressure."Miraculously, no cop was fatally wounded. The shooter, though, was killed in a barrage of police bullets. While the horrific details of the incident drew national attention, one aspect of it flew under the radar. Moore was the first and last person to be killed by Detroit police officers in all of 2011. As of earlier this month, only one civilian had been killed by police fire in 2012.
The low number of officer-involved slayings in Detroit represents a stark contrast to years past. Between 1990 and 1998, Detroit PD was the deadliest police force in the nation, averaging ten shooting deaths per year. Autopsies showed that many of the civilians were shot in the back, and yet the majority of the officers involved were never punished. Given such statistics, how has Detroit PD made such progress on reducing civilian casualties in recent years?
Much of the department's success stems from a 2003 federal lawsuit that accused Detroit PD of system-wide misconduct. In order to avoid a potential federal takeover, the department agreed to two legally binding agreements known as consent decrees. The decrees systematically overhauled the department's policies to ensure accountability and "best-practices" policing.