'Multiple' investigations underway into Detroit police oversight board
Published in News & Features
DETROIT — The Detroit Police Department is conducting "multiple criminal and administrative investigations" into the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, the 11-member citizens panel that's charged with overseeing the city's police department, according to an email the board chairman sent Monday.
Two sources familiar with the investigation said they are focusing on whether the board paid one or more "ghost" or nonexistent employees and allegations that board officials shredded documents to cover up the alleged payroll scam. Two board staffers have been placed on leave with pay during the probes, prompting criticism from at least one commissioner who called the move "unprecedented."
In his email to the board obtained by The Detroit News, Chairman Bryan Ferguson wrote: "Exigent actions were taken Friday, March 24th to guard evidence from being and/or further being altered, stolen and/or destroyed ... I would advise Commissioners not to involve yourselves in these investigations other than being fully cooperative."
Ferguson's email follows a message sent Friday by board Secretary Victoria Shah, who advised commissioners: "Executive Manager Melanie White and Supervising Investigator Lawrence Akbar are on Administrative Leave with pay while an investigation continues. They are not permitted to access any BOPC or (Office of the Chief Investigator) offices or operational systems while on leave."
Phone calls to Ferguson and Shah were not returned Monday, and attempts to reach Akbar and White were not successful.
Commissioner Willie Bell said Ferguson "overstepped his authority" by putting Akbar and White on leave.
"The chairperson isn't in an executive position," said Bell, who served two terms as the board's chair. "The City Charter doesn't give the chair the authority to put board employees on leave. This is an unprecedented action."
Commissioner Ricardo Moore said the investigation is distracting the board from its work.
"We're supposed to be the oversight board for the police, but we can't be watching the cops when we're dealing with our own problems like this," said Moore, a former Detroit police officer who in 2014 called for an audit of the board's administrative process. "I'm concerned that some commissioners might be involved in this, and I look forward to getting this whole thing resolved."
The investigation is the latest in a long string of scandals and probes involving the police board, which was established in 1974 to provide oversight of a troubled police department. The board's Office of the Chief Investigator, which looks into non-criminal allegations against cops, has been the focus of much of the recent rancor.
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