DETROIT (WXYZ) — As complaints against Detroit Police officers jump 20% from last year, the office tasked with looking into officer misconduct is battling a severe staffing shortage.
The lack of investigators has led just over half of citizen complaints open today to languish beyond the 90-day timeline mandated by the feds.
The city’s Office of the Chief Investigator—a little known but critical office tasked with policing Detroit’s officers—is funded for 18 investigators, but today has only 12.
OCI staff investigates all non-criminal complaints against Detroit’s cops, like whether an officer used appropriate force, conducted an improper search or had a poor demeanor.
Business, unfortunately, is booming.
As of earlier this month, 810 complaints have been lodged since the year began—a 20% increase from the year before, when 675 had been filed.
“Our responsibility is to do thorough, comprehensive investigations for our customers, which is the citizens,” said Lawrence Akbar, the Interim Chief Investigator.
Akbar said he’s not satisfied with the time it’s taking to investigate complaints today. 210 investigations are open, and 142—or just over half—have dragged on for longer than 90 days.
The 90-day deadline was set by the Department of Justice as part of its consent decree with DPD following concerns that some citizen complaints were stretching on for far too long.
Today's staffing shortage was first triggered by the pandemic, then made worse following employee resignations and retirements.
When COVID-19 struck last year, the city cut back employee hours from five days a week to just four.
Then, multiple OCI investigators came down with the virus, including two who had to be hospitalized.
On top of that, several investigators recently retired or quit.
“That means the voices of the citizens that are complaining…they’re going unheard and unnoticed,” said Darryl Brown, a member of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Brown said meeting the 90-day benchmark is important not just because witness memories fade over time, but because the very best witness in police interactions can disappear.
“Those body warn cameras,” he said, “that (data is) discarded after 90 days. So it needs to be done and investigated so they can pull that information and keep it.”
Later this month, two new investigators are set to be hired, bringing the office up to 14.
Years ago, Akbar says the Office of Chief Investigator was staffed with 21 investigators, and as complaints continue to pour into his office, he says it’s clear they need more help than they’re getting.
Rev. Jim Holley, the new Chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, says he’s hoping to have all 18 investigators in place by November 1, but says going from 18 to 21 will require approval of the Detroit City Council.
He’s seeking it today.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.