...But He Played One On TV
Detroit police chief Warren Evans is gone, having resigned Wednesday afternoon amid continuing controversy and outrage in the wake of the shooting death of a 7-year-old girl by Detroit police officers in May.
Although speculation continues to swirl about the reasons Evans stepped down, reports suggest that he handed in his resignation after learning that a local TV station was planning to air video footage of Evans that looks like a polished pitch for a TV reality show. The video promo, entitled "The Chief," depicts Evans as near-cartoonish badass, swaggering through the dilapidated streets of the city, posing while heavily armed and vowing to do "whatever it takes" to fight crime citywide.
The footage is being aired even as the city is still recovering from the death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 7, who was shot to death by officers who stormed her house looking for a murder suspect — all while being filmed by a crew from TV reality show "The First 48." The cops, who chucked a flashbang grenade into the home in a violation of policy against gassing residences occupied by children, are being accused of taking excessive and inappropriate measures to show off for the cameras.
There's an obvious symmetry here, as it seems that the same Hollywood mentality that led to the fatal shooting of that little girl has now taken Evans' law enforcement career to an early grave, too.
But it's also more than that.
More than just the timing of the footage, it's also the tone that likely left some uncomfortable at City Hall and elsewhere around town. Detroiters harbor no illusions about the sort of tough policing we need in our city. (Witness the city's collective anguish when Officer Brian Huff was killed on duty several days before the Stanley-Jones tragedy.) I don't know of anybody here who has a problem with officers getting tough and using appropriate force to keep these blood-stained streets safe.
But I don't think it's too much to ask for a chief who is more interested in actually solving the problems that plague our communities than with playing head-cracker on TV. Nor do I think it's wrong to ask that the chief not use the very real dysfunction, death and drama of the city's streets to prop up his grandstanding show-biz ambitions.
I mean, it's not like the man didn't have serious issues to keep him busy and off-camera. Detroit's police department is a mess. It is currently under federal supervision because of brutal attacks on citizens and administrative mismanagement. Its crime lab was shuttered because it was run so shoddily, and now that it's reopening, is slated to be run by the state police. As recently as last month, the Evans-led department was ordered to pay a $1,000-a-day fine until it comes up with a solution to an embarrassing backlog of unanswered citizen complaints. Meanwhile, the department's Gang Squad was drastically scaled back — and effectively disbanded — after years of complaints from residents of abuse and excessive force. And don't even get me started on random silliness like framing motorists for kicks.
Meanwhile, the city continues to grapple with one of the highest homicide rates in the nation.
Evans had said this year that his tactics were showing results (although the department has been known to under-report violent crime). However, reports about dips in crime were soon overshadowed by a string of fatal shootings during the late spring and early summer. Then came the death of Aiyana, which amplified calls for Evans' resignation.
Even then, though, many thought Evans would make it through the resulting controversy. After all, Mayor Dave Bing continued to express support for him.
Now, not so much.
Few can say for sure why Evans quit his job. (I should also add that I'm not sure that a promo video alone is a fire-able offense — but probably more than enough reason for a clearly flailing mayor.) I'm sure it didn't help Evans that some saw him as a crass publicity-seeker whose fondness for bright lights may have contributed to or encouraged some very grave missteps within the department, including the events that resulted in the 7-year-old's death.
I've heard good things about Evans' successor, interim chief A.C. (Ralph) Godbee, and I wish the man well, same as I did Evans when he was installed. After all, there's no doubt that this city sorely needs someone to run its police department properly and effectively, someone more interested in showing character than being a caricature. The Detroit Police Department needs a leader.
I just don't think it needs "The Chief."