Stop-and-Frisk Adds to History of Police Abuse in Detroit


Adopting a “Stop-and-Frisk” policy is not the answer for Detroit. Stop-and-Frisk is a policy where police stop an individual, question them, and then frisk them to see if they are carrying drugs or guns. Police departments in both London and New York City (NYC) have utilized Stop-and-Frisk policies in recent years and both have seen racially biased abuses as well as wasted effort on a majority of innocent residents (90% innocent from NYCLU report). Representatives from the Manhattan Institute, who are consulting the Detroit Police Department (DPD) note that Detroit has always been a Stop-and-Frisk jurisdiction. One could argue that Detroit has also always been a jurisdiction of police abuse.

From rebellion to riots and attempts to rein in crime in a declining city, every police policy has been marked by police brutality. The deep divide between Detroit residents and the police department can be traced back to the 1943 race riot. During the 1943 riots, police violently cracked down on black residents, killing thirteen. The rebellion of 1967 saw similar incidents of police brutality as the nearly all white police force violently attacked the black population. These two events deepened the mistrust between the DPD and the black population. As a result violent crime reportedly doubled between 1965 and 1970. With the auto industry in decline and violence increasing, thousands of white residents migrated to the suburbs in what is well known as “white flight.” In response to the increasing crime, the DPD founded S.T.R.E.S.S. (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets) in 1970 and over its two and a half year existence was known for its brutal tactics, was responsible for 22 killings, and hundreds of unwarranted arrests of Detroit’s black residents until it was suspended in 1972.

Between 1990 and 1998 the DPD was estimated to be responsible for killing at least 10 people a year. The highest rate of any police department in the US. Many of these police homicides were labeled “justifiable,” however a number of police officers were put in jail as a result of community activism and legal convictions for police officers with unfounded “justifiable” homicides. The DPD has a history of under-reporting homicides and other cities have been cited for categorizing more “justifiable homicides” in order to decrease their homicide rates and appear to be safer. In many cases the reporting police officer may deem a homicide “justifiable” simply based on their own prerogative. In 2011, justifiable homicide was up by 79% while 2012 marked the highest year for homicides since 2007.

Earlier this year, Mayor Bing announced that the Gang Squad (featured in National Geographic’s “Inside Detroit’s Gang Squad”), best known for killing a young girl during a raid, would be disbanded and the officers would be placed in the precinct offices to help increase the number of patrol officers on the street. Ron Scott, with the Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality, told NPR that the gang squad is so rough, 30% of police brutality complaints are about the squad. “They were thugs,” Scott said. “Nothing but thugs.”

In a joint press conference, the Michigan ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, the Arab-American Civil Rights League, and the National Action Network, condemned the Stop-and-Frisk plan citing the issues with the policy in New York. “We don’t want STRESS 2.0,” Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the Detroit News. Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said that his organization has already received dozens of complaints about police improperly stopping residents (Detroit News). Stop-and-Frisk only perpetuates the pattern of police abuse against black residents seen since the 1940s and will do nothing to improve citywide or community crime prevention outcomes. Detroit needs an effective policing strategy that doesn’t needlessly profile or harass innocent residents.

Image source: Walter P. Reuther Library (28651) Riots, Sojourner Truth, Housing, Arrests, 1942