The Board of Police of Commissioners was created in 1974 by City Charter, which was adopted by the vote of the people. The Charter vests broad supervisory authority over the Police Department in the five-member civilian Board of Police Commissioners.
The Detroit Police Department was established by a state legislative act in 1865. Prior to the enactment of the City Charter, the legislature provided for a four-member commission to be appointed by the Governor for eight-year terms. The four-member commission system continued until May 4, 1901, when the first single commissioner was appointed. The single commissioner form of administrative authority over the Department continued until enactment of the City Charter.
The Board is comprised of civilians who are residents of Detroit. The members are appointed by the Mayor and subject to the approval of the City Council. Each commissioner serves a five-year rotating term of membership. It was envisioned that these civilian appointees would represent the various interests, values and opinions of the community – clergy, labor, medicine, legal, public interest and education.
Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young convened the first meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners on July 22, 1974. The first Commissioners appointed were Douglas Fraser, Edward Littlejohn, Rev. Charles Butler, Susan Mills-Peek and Alexander Ritchie. This first board fulfilled that vision of civilian appointees with the clergy, labor, civil rights, public interest, medicine and education interests represented.
The Board began without a staff or procedures to guide it. However, it did have ample financial resources for staff and operating expenses. In its first year, the Board was allotted $211,416 for its administrative and investigative staff. Currently, the staff of the Board is made up of 28 full-time employees, including sworn and civilian personnel and a budget of more than $2.2 million.
The Charter gives the Board of Police Commissioners the authority to establish the Department’s policies, rules and regulations, approving its budget, and serving as the final appellate authority for employee discipline. Since its inception, more than 1,200 disciplinary cases have been appealed to the Board from sworn officers of all ranks. In addition to determining and approving policy and regulations for the Department in consultation with the Chief of Police and with the approval of the Mayor, the Board monitors and resolves any complaints regarding the Department’s operation and/or its personnel.
The Board has plenary authority over citizen complaints and has the power to appoint fact finders, subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony, and require the production of evidence. In 1984, the Detroit Police Department’s Professional Standards Section was merged with the Board’s Office of the Chief Investigator to jointly provide effective and meaningful investigations of complaints about the Police Department and its personnel in accordance with Charter mandate. The Office of the Chief Investigator operates independent of the Detroit Police Department’s chain of command. A civilian Chief Investigator who is appointed by the Board heads this office.
The Board also appoints the Director of Police Personnel. This provision strengthens civilian control over important personnel functions, such as hiring practices, written, oral, and medical examinations. The Board also approves all promotions within the Department.
Pursuant to the Charter, the Board must hold weekly meetings. The weekly meetings are held on Thursdays at Police Headquarters. Once a month, community meetings are held in various districts throughout the city. In addition, the Board is accessible to the public through its full-time staff, which consists of an Executive Secretary, Chief Investigator, Director of Personnel, trained civilian and department investigators and other support staff.