Alexis Escoto, BOPC Vice Chair Annie Holt, Angelica Williams and Keyaira Johnson meet for lunch at La Jalisciense Supermercado Y Taqueria in southwest Detroit for an YAP meeting April 22, 2023. (BridgeDetroit photo by Micah Walker)

Over chips and salsa, tacos and Tejano music, 20-year-old Angelica Williams was in the midst of a heavy lunchtime conversation. 

Williams shared with friends that she hopes the Detroit Police Department will create a mental health task force with trained psychologists to better cope with the city’s recent uptick in crisis calls. She said that she wants to see more non-violent methods of police response after two fatal police-involved shootings last fall during mental health runs. 

“It would be a place people can call other than the police for these types of situations,” she told peers during the April gathering at La Jalisciense Supermercado Y Taqueria in southwest Detroit.

At the other end of the table, Alexis Escoto, 21, suggested that the young people organize a nighttime event this summer with mental health services, workshops and something entertaining, like a movie screening, to entice young people to attend. 

Recent shootings, potential mental health response strategies for DPD and events to engage youths are among the topics that the Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) discusses during monthly meetings. The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners created the panel last year to provide teens and young adults an outlet to address community policing and civilian oversight. The group launched in November and aims to “shape a new era of community policing and social justice,” according to BOPC documents. 

Keyaira Johnson, Alexis Escoto, Ilana Spencer, Perriel Pace and Angelica Williams at the swearing in ceremony for the Youth Advisory Panel at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters in November 2022. (Courtesy of BOPC)

Police Commissioner Lisa Carter, who represents District 6, was instrumental in making sure the voices of young people were heard on a regular basis for BOPC, said YAP and BOPC coordinator Teresa Blossom. The BOPC is an 11-member board established in 1974 under the Detroit City Charter to provide broad oversight of the police department, including an investigative office that evaluates citizen complaints against Detroit police officers. 

“The board historically has done youth outreach,” Blossom said. “The board has held youth meetings in high school, they’ve gone to different youth events, but on an ongoing basis, they wanted the input of youth consistently in the board’s work.” 

Besides Williams and Escoto, YAP has three other members, including Keyaira Johnson, Perriel Pace and Illana Spencer. Williams attends Wayne State University, while Escoto goes to Henry Ford College. The three other members are in high school. YAP is looking to expand next school year with at least a few more members, Blossom said. Applications are available at The deadline to apply is Sept. 30. 

BOPC Vice Chair Annie Holt, who also championed creation of the panel, said YAP also gives young people a chance to know their rights when it comes to interacting with police.

“Young people should know that when they encounter law enforcement, they have a right to be treated with the utmost respect,” she said. “And given that encounter falls apart, the young people also learn that they can make complaints against that law enforcement member in writing with the expectation that they will receive some kind of positive resolve as a result of making their written complaint.” 

Williams wants to pursue a career in criminal psychology after college and said her interest in policing matters and involvement in youth advocacy motivated her to join the panel. The east side resident said she wants to subvert the preconception that young adults are naive and that their opinions don’t matter. 

“I want youth to be seen for the capabilities and power that they have. I want youth to be able to be in spaces that youth have never been in before,” she said. “I want to prove that youth are not only capable of being in these environments but can dominate them.”

Gun violence, school safety top concerns 

Williams and Pace are the lead advocates for YAP and trade off in leading monthly meetings, where members talk about concerns involving the BOPC and in their communities. Blossom and Holt then bring what was discussed back to the board. 

“We (the BOPC) are currently compiling their notes from their meetings on the topics that are specific to the policies that they’ve discussed to date,” Blossom said. “That includes facial recognition, license plate readers and ShotSpotter.” 

One issue raised during a meeting last month was gun violence after six shootings unfolded in Greektown and the Detroit Riverwalk in early April. In an effort to keep children and teens indoors, Mayor Mike Duggan and Police Chief James White are cracking down on the city’s curfew, which is 10 p.m. for children 15 and under and 11 p.m. for minors between 16 and 17.

None of the shootings involved minors, but Duggan and White said they are concerned about families being caught in the violence. 

Escoto argues the curfew is unnecessary and wants DPD to reach out to youth directly, like through a community event, but Williams said that she believes a curfew is helpful in keeping young people safe. 

“We definitely need to focus on keeping people safe,” she said, “but maybe we need to start looking at what are the reasons behind why people aren’t safe in the first place.”

The root of the problem is the easy access people have to weapons. And, it’s true for young people, too, she added.

Williams, Escoto and Johnson say they often don’t feel safe as young people in Detroit and are on alert at all times in case someone around them is armed. 

Johnson, 16, noted an incident at Renaissance High where she attends school. A student brought a toy gun into the building and the school was placed on lockdown.

“Now, any mishap blows up into something that leaves people in a panic,” Johnson said. 

Williams has been in a lockdown situation herself and said she has friends who attend Michigan State University, which experienced a deadly mass shooting in February. The possibility of a shooting gives her anxiety, but, at the same time, Williams has become desensitized to the violence. 

“It gets very hard to be in fear all the time,” she said. 

Angelica Williams talks about her work with YAP and experiences with police, gun violence and school safety during an April 18, 2023, BridgeDetroit Youth Town Hall at Chroma in New Center. (BridgeDetroit photo)

Williams added that as a Black woman, she believes she could become a target at any time. 

“In general, most other people can go somewhere with some level of safety,” she said. “Black women grew up not being able to trust in anything because you never know when that can become a harmful situation for you.”

The city has held up several initiatives in recent months to reduce gun violence. Among them, One Detroit, a federal, state and county partnership to address crime and improve resident quality of life. The program aims to stem violent behavior by reaching beyond enforcement to encompass more strategies for community-based prevention and intervention and reentry services for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Days after the shootings in and around Greektown, White and Duggan also released a 12-point plan calling for more officers on the streets, road closures, strict enforcement of the city’s youth curfew and open alcohol ordinances and a crime hotline and rewards for tipsters.

Separately, Detroit’s new “ShotStopper” program will award several city organizations two-year contracts at $700,000 per year to execute interventions to curb shootings.

Williams said YAP has had several discussions about the city’s initiatives and while they don’t completely resolve the issues, they do provide some comfort.

Of all the issues the YAP concerns itself with, ongoing investigations into the police board aren’t on the list, BOPC members and staff say.

In recent weeks, the current board and its leadership, Detroit’s Office of the Auditor General, Office of Inspector General, and the DPD Internal Affairs Unit have been investigating what Board Chair Bryan Ferguson characterized as “inconsistencies” discovered by the BOPC and its staff. Detroit Inspector General Ellen Ha in February seized closed citizen complaint files from the board’s Office of the Chief Investigator. 

A backlog of hundreds of citizen complaints against Detroit officers has been a concern for BOPC since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore said in March that two staff members were placed on administrative leave to preserve evidence during the course of the investigations. 

Holt told BridgeDetroit that the investigations are not relevant to the work YAP is doing. YAP members declined to comment. 

“I just don’t think we should invest their energies in focusing on something that they have no result in,” Holt said of the group.

Bridging a connection 

Williams said YAP members want to use the discussions they have had on gun violence and mental health and turn them into workshops for the community and to strengthen the relationship between DPD and residents. 

The group hopes to partner with community organizations to make the events happen. Some organizations YAP mentioned include L!fe Leaders, which Williams is a part of, and Grow Detroit’s Young Talent (GDYT). 

L!fe Leaders Executive Director Maria Franklin told BridgeDetroit she hasn’t heard much about YAP but would be thrilled to partner with the group. GDYT spokesperson Robin Johnston said he could not comment since he was unfamiliar with YAP.

Williams said YAP may host an event on National Night Out, a nationwide community policing initiative typically held on the first Tuesday in August. 

Escoto envisions a conference or a resource fair to help promote not only YAP, but community organizations. YAP currently does not have a stipend from BOPC to host events. They hope there’s potential for grant funding to support these functions down the line.

Escoto joined YAP because he noticed young people weren’t getting involved and attending city meetings. 

“Even though there’s not a lot of youth in our community meetings, I want to be the voice for them and hopefully do outreach to get more youth to be involved,” he said. 

Added Williams: “Everyone says that youth are our future and everything should be done in preparation for youth being in the future. Not enough people acknowledge that youth are the present, too. Things that are happening right now are affecting us.”  

BOPC secretary Victoria Shah said it’s important to have young people’s input and they need to be knowledgeable about policing and oversight since they’re going to be the next generation of police officers, commissioners, and BOPC staff members. 

While YAP presented at a meeting earlier this year, there have been discussions within the BOPC to get the group more involved and present information at future meetings, Shah said.

“Young people need to start formulating now and providing input into what they want society to look like for the rest of their lives and their children’s lives because they’re going to be the ones to shape it,” she said. 

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