Detroit Police Chief Godbee: Detroit Police must be aggressive, but “fair”

Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. speaks Thursday at a forum on Detroit crime. "We have to resist the urge of those heavy-handed techniques that run over people’s rights," he said to applause

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said Thursday that the city’s response to violence must be aggressive but mindful of the rights of the vast majority of residents who aren’t criminals.

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Detroit’s fiscal disaster amid dramatic population loss, spurring state oversight of the city’s finances, has undermined the fight against crime, adding more cuts to a police department half the size it was a decade ago. Officers also took a 10% pay cut last month, and many now work 12-hour shifts.

But Godbee said he will resist calls to engage in tactics such as New York’s stop-and-frisk policy, in which officers target people they deem suspicious for searches that critics say are illegal and discriminate against black people and Latinos.

"We have to resist the urge of those heavy-handed techniques that run over people’s rights," Godbee said to applause from the more than 175 people gathered for a conference at Wayne State University to discuss Detroit’s crime crisis.

He lamented the steady population decline and the staggering number of abandoned homes and buildings as setting "the tone and tenor" of Detroit’s crime fight.

Former WSU President Irvin Reid said plunging tax revenues, high unemployment and troubled schools exacerbate the problem.

Fighting crime in Detroit "gets harder and harder to do every year," said Reid, now director of the school’s Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society, which presented the two-day symposium.

Speakers encouraged newer approaches that de-emphasize reacting to crimes in favor of prevention, with more resources devoted to social service programs that target at-risk youths so they don’t fall prey to the brutality of life on the streets.

Other speakers included George Kelling, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who is working with Detroit police, and Carl Taylor, professor of sociology at Michigan State University.

The forum today will feature a speech by William Bratton, a former leader of the New York, Los Angeles and Boston police departments, whose use of computer-driven crime data has helped reduce and prevent crime.

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