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‘Stop-and-frisk’ expands to Detroit

The National Action Network is already in the preliminary stages of a legal challenge against the policy.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

The National Action Network is already in the preliminary stages of a legal challenge against the policy.

Families play in the water surrounding Belle Island, Detroit. (Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier/Redux)

Just a week and a half after a federal judge ruled that the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” program is unconstitutional, the city of Detroit is developing its own version of the policy. On Monday, the Detroit Newsreported that the city’s police department is working in consultation with the Manhattan Institute and the Bratton Group, two of the architects for New York stop-and-frisk, to train Traffic Unit officers.

The Detroit Police Department (DPD) insists that this is nothing new. DPD assistant chief Erik Ewing told reporters that the department “is already a stop-and-frisk policing agency,” because it already uses “reasonable suspicion” as a criteria for stopping people. That hasn’t satisfied critics, who believe shaping the DPD to be more like the NYPD could exacerbate racial tensions within an already troubled city.

“To heighten and mimic even further what they’ve been doing in New York is wrong, and we’re going to challenge this legally,” said Reverend Charles Williams II, president of the National Action Network’s Michigan chapter. He said the organization’s legal counsel is already collecting evidence in the hopes of getting stop-and-frisk declared unconstitutional in Detroit, much as it was in New York.

But a challenge on constitutional grounds might be more difficult to mount in Detroit, where nearly 83% of the population is African-American. New York’s stop-and-frisk program was found unconstitutional because it disproportionately targets African Americans; the case for disproportionate targeting would be more difficult to make in a city where the population is overwhelmingly black.

“Detroit’s population is mostly African American, so it stands to reason that a high number of African Americans will be stopped, based on reasonable suspicion,” said Ewing in his statement to the press. “This is not racial profiling, just officers doing good constitutional police work.”

Evette Dukes, the legal counsel for National Action Network in Michigan, agreed that making the constitutionality argument would be “difficult.”

“You have to look at the evidence of whether or not the officers involved in stop-and-frisk are predominantly Caucasians,” she said.

On the other hand, the Detroit Police Department already has a handful of institutional checks in place not shared by its New York counterpart. For the past decade, a federal monitor has watched over the DPD. The police department also has a civilian oversight board, though Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has “curtailed” its power significantly.