6 vie for seats on Detroit’s Board of Police Commissioners
Detroit Police Department is failing to meet its responsibilities. Acting members admit this, saying the board has too little authority over the police it is supposed to oversee and conceding that the board has been largely silent in the face of calls for police reform.
Although the November 2nd election will see significant fluctuations in this body, young black men – the demographic most likely to be caught or harmed by the police – are likely to remain underrepresented. Three incumbent board members are leaving, but three more, including two retired police officers, are heavily favored to be re-elected.
We wish that a reform list of candidates would have emerged to question the status quo. We want a police commission with the courage to restrict the use of error-prone surveillance technology. Detroiters deserve a police body that takes its oversight function seriously, stands up for citizens who are victims of police misconduct, and rejects union agreements that restrict DPD’s power to discipline or fire troubled officers.
The only candidates we see willingness to make real change in are the District 2 incumbents LINDA BERNARD and District 6 Challenger LANDIS SPENCER.
Bernard, who represents District 2, won a special election last year to end her predecessor’s incomplete term and is seeking re-election for a full term.
The owner of the tow truck company Lavish T. Williams is challenging for Bernard.
The city’s towing contracts recently attracted state scrutiny, with one Detroit city council member guilty of bribery and two others being the subject of FBI raids. Williams says he never had and never wanted any city contracts.
Williams offers a fresh perspective and he seems sincere in his passion for better police work in Detroit. He understands the need for accountability rather than reliance on surveillance technology that too often identifies innocent blacks as criminal suspects.
Bernard is a longtime attorney who has successfully argued before the Michigan Supreme Court. Her relatively short tenure on the board limits her guilt for the current dysfunction. She has a keen understanding of the responsibilities of the BOPC and is committed to demanding greater accountability from the police agency she oversees. It is also working to initiate a buyback program as it has reduced the number of handguns on the streets of other cities plagued by handgun violence.
Advertising strategist Landis Spencer is loudly advocating police reform and is well informed about these issues. Spencer, who also served as a community organizer, believes the Detroit Police Department needs to be redesigned to provide better service and more accountability to residents.
Of the candidates, Spencer has invested the least in the status quo. He promises to work for a significant, productive change in business as usual.
He faces acting District 6 Commissioner Lisa Carter, the retired deputy sheriff of Wayne County.
Since the Detroit Charter was revised in 2012, the board has consisted of seven district-elected commissioners and four mayors-appointed mayors. Carter has served on the board since 2013 and is expected to be re-elected this fall.
Carter has been a dedicated civil servant and openly acknowledges how the problematic and passivity of the current board of directors have limited its effectiveness. But we wonder why she hasn’t done more to improve the tenor or the functionality of the commission. While her law enforcement experience has undoubtedly been beneficial, she also helps the Board identify more with the officials it oversees than with the citizens it represents.
In District 4, Commissioner Willie Bell is seeking re-election. Like Carter, he is a retired police officer who has served on the board since he added elected seats. He recently ended a term as chairman during which he kept clashing with other members.
Bell, who spent 32 years at DPD before joining BOPC in 2003, still says “we” when talking about the department’s practices, policies and shortcomings. It’s an excusable mistake for a retiree who has spent his career in the bureaucracy he now oversees, but it points to his measly prospect.
But Bell’s challenger, community college professor Scott Boman, lacks too much preparation and experience to be an effective police superintendent.
Detroiters, it seems, have no better option than to return WILLIE BELL to the commission.
In District 5, incumbent commissioner Willie Burton is running unanimously. His counterparts in Districts 1, 3, and 7 – Darryl Brown, Shirley Burch, and William Davis – are not seeking re-election.
In District 3, first-time candidate Cedric Banks, a pastor and self-proclaimed prophet, is running unopposed. No candidate in District 1 and 7 qualified to vote. These places can be filled by written candidates who have to submit a letter of intent by October 22nd. If no candidate is elected, the seats will be occupied by mayors, giving Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan control of up to six seats.