The Detroit Police Department has responded to more than 17,000 calls involving the mentally ill
Detroit — In the wake of the recent high-profile incidents Chief James White said he would involve Detroit police officers in using deadly force during encounters with people suffering from mental illness.
The new non-lethal tools include beanbag shotguns and Bolawraps, hand-held devices that discharge a cord that wraps around subjects’ arms or legs to restrain them. White said Friday he will also ask the Detroit City Council to authorize the purchase of drones for officers to use during high-risk situations.
White also plans to put in place two centralized Co-Response Units — one each to cover the east and west sides of the city — which will consist of full-time officers dedicated to mental health. Currently, each district has at least one officer with crisis intervention training for runs involving people with mental illnesses.
Under the new system, White said the precinct will retain some of those officers who work part-time on mental health issues and additional officers will be assigned to the two centralized teams as their full-time positions.
“Because of the incredible volume we’re getting, I need to have officers dedicated to mental health,” White said.
The Co-Response Unit’s two shifts run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. “because statistically that’s the time when the need is greatest,” White said. “But this also keeps some CIT agents on the ground. It’s a layered approach.”
White did not say when he plans to make the changes or how many officers will be assigned to each Co-Response Unit. More details will be released at a press conference next week, the chief said.
The changes come as The Detroit Police Department is responding to a record number of runs involving mentally ill citizens. As of Friday, Detroit police officers had been deployed to more than 17,000 mental health emergencies by 2022, White said.
While the police chief said the high number of mental health calls drove the changes, “these tools will be used to address all police encounters in volatile and dangerous situations.”
The city council would have to approve the drone’s use, though White said approval isn’t needed to use the beanbag gun or Bolawrap “because those fall under intermediate weapons.”
Board votes against suspension without pay
White first revealed some aspects of his plan at the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners’ Thursday meeting. After the meeting, the board voted 6 to 3 in a closed-door session to approve the chief’s recommendation that Sgt. Marvin Anthony while on leave during an investigation into the November 10 emergency run involving a woman with schizophrenia.
White had Anthony and two other officers suspended days after the incident that ended in the death of 27-year-old Ki’Azia Miller, as she allegedly struggled with officers for control of a gun. When White announced the suspensionshe said officers should have entered the home immediately since Miller’s relatives had called police and reported she was in the residence with her two young children, armed with a gun, knife and baseball bat.
The Board of Police Commissioners was also initially set to decide in the closed-door session on White’s recommendation to withhold wages from the other two suspended officers involved in the incident, but the Detroit Police Officer’s Association Union requested a public hearing, which will be held at a future board meeting.
At Thursday’s meeting, White told the board that Miller’s death and other recent incidents led him to launch the “Mental Health Co-Response Partnership” initiative that was launched in December 2020 in partnership with the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network.
After the Miller incident and the October 2 fatal shooting of Porter Burks, a mentally ill man who was killed after disobeying officers’ orders to drop a knife, White told the board that changes to the system were needed.
At Thursday’s board meeting, the chief said he will soon deploy two centralized Co-Response Units and roll out the other gear changes.
“We have a limited number of officers in our Crisis Intervention Training, and what we have decided to do in light of the incidents that have happened recently is to make that operation more efficient by centralizing it and also improving the response with additional trained officers and additional civilian co-responders,” the chief said.
White added, “That’s not going to guarantee anything. CIT is a tool; it’s not the solution to Detroit’s mental health crisis. I don’t want to overpromise that these tools and equipment will prevent a critical incident or fatal use. of violence. … Unfortunately, there will be fatal violence cases with the Detroit Police Department. … These resources are intended to assist the offices with other options, not to replace fatal violence cases.”
Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore, a former Detroit police officer, expressed concern over the chief’s plan.
“Citizens don’t like things to be centralized,” Moore said. “They enjoy getting to know the officers at their precinct and bonding with them.”
During Thursday’s closed-door session, Moore voted against White’s recommendation that Sgt. Anthony without pay.
“My heart goes out to the Miller family, but we weren’t there to judge the shooting; we were there to judge policy issues, and I think there were bigger things that should have been corrected on the ground,” he said. “I don’t want to go into too much detail because we still have to decide on the other two suspensions.”
Commissioner Willie Burton also voted against White’s recommendation that the sergeant be suspended without pay. “Based on the evidence we got, I didn’t see enough to take anyone’s pay,” Burton said. “They’re trying to frame the sergeant as a cheater, but there was no evidence that he did anything worth getting suspended without pay.”
Sergeant Anthony should have handled the situation better, said Commissioner Willie Bell, who voted in favor of White’s recommendation.
“I thought Chief White had an excellent case for suspension without pay,” said Bell, also a former Detroit police officer. “We watched the video of the incident and I was really disturbed because the sergeant did not take charge of that situation. Based on my experience as a supervisor at DPD, it was quite disturbing, and a woman lost her life due to indecision and a lack of supervision.”
After Burks’ murder, his family filed a report a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the five police officers who shot him. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced last month that the officers will not face criminal charges because she said they acted in self-defense.
The Burks Incident local activists called for last month to advocate for the establishment of an independent mental health crisis response team.