Detroit’s police oversight board wants teen and young adult voices to help guide it forward.
The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners this week said it is accepting applications for a new Youth Advisory Panel created in hopes of attracting Detroit youths ages 14-24 to play a role in community policing and civilian oversight.
BOPC approved a resolution in May to establish the youth panel that the board’s Vice Chair Annie Holt said would help ensure that young Detroiters know their rights when it comes to interacting with the police.
“The objective of having young folks work with the Youth Advisory Panel is so that young people will learn how to become empowered as they interact with law enforcement members,” Holt told BridgeDetroit.
Holt said the youth panel concept is used in some other big cities like New York. Part of the inspiration for a program here, she said, was based on DPD’s youth engagement work with groups like the Detroit Police Athletic League, which uses athletic, academic and leadership programs to help young people build positive relationships with police officers.
Holt said the city’s oversight board will be posting flyers to attract applicants for its youth panel at high schools within the Detroit Public Schools Community District and on the campuses of Wayne State University, the University of Detroit Mercy and Wayne County Community College.
The panel, she said, will meet monthly and focus on civilian oversight in Detroit and broader conversations about law enforcement across the country. BOPC is looking for at least seven young people to serve on the panel. The deadline to apply is Sept. 30.
“We’re going to try to educate our young people on what it means to be the gatekeepers of what should happen as citizens interact with law enforcement members,” said Holt, adding she’s hoping that the panel will help strengthen relationships between Detroit police and young Black residents.
Holt said she has noticed that some residents feel alienated from DPD and said that dynamic needs to change.
Holt, who was appointed to the board by Mayor Mike Duggan in 2019, said that the relationship between the Detroit Police Department and Black Detroiters has had a lot of ups and downs since she first moved to the city in 1967 – the same year as the uprising.
“When you look at that rebellion, it was largely about how police were treating people, specifically Black people,” she said. “So that was my introduction to Detroit police.”
But the department, she stressed, has come a long way since then. Police Chief James White and other leaders within the department have been responsive to residents’ concerns and criticisms. The department is also working to ensure residents have a positive view of the city’s police through programs like Walk A Mile Wednesdays with White, where the chief walks with residents in different city’s police precincts each week to be a visible presence in the community.
DPD also held a recent “Stop Killing Our Babies” march and rally on the city’s west side in an effort to bring community leaders and the police together to help quell gun violence. As of Aug. 21, there have been nearly 200 criminal homicides and 620 non-fatal shootings in the city this year, according to DPD data.
The city also encourages youth interaction with police through its Detroit Public Safety Academy, which gives Detroit high school students a head start on careers in public safety through a diploma in criminal justice or a certification in public or private security.
Second Deputy Chief Kyra Joy Hope said she and others in DPD encourage young residents to speak up if they have had a negative experience with police in the city.
“If your feelings were somehow changed in a negative way by a bad encounter, you have an outlet and an opportunity to voice how you felt about that situation,” she said, “and what you feel that the chief of police should do as it relates to your encounter.”
Hope said the department’s community-focused events also help “stabilize” the already strong bridge that DPD is building with residents.
“We are constantly building on strengthening our relationships,” Hope said. “But we already had a very, very strong relationship in our city.”
Detroit native and WSU student Pierre Smith said he believes younger voices and opinions could help improve police accountability.
“It (the panel) is a great idea because talking to younger people will let (BOPC) know where problems with crime are coming from instead of them assuming,” Smith, 19, said, “especially because it’s younger people who are involved in a lot of the crime they’re talking about.”
Smith said he’s interested in learning more about the Youth Advisory Panel and said he’ll consider applying. He also appreciates DPD’s efforts to reach young people who are already involved in illegal activities.
“It’s good to show (young people) a better way to express themselves and ways to solve problems without getting violent,” he said.
Fellow WSU student Taylor James said she wants to learn more about police oversight, the BOPC and how it functions.
“Young people are very opinionated when it comes to police and Gen Z has been really active when it comes to police reform because we know it’s our generation that will live with the impacts of whatever decisions get made,” said James, 20, a Baltimore native.
“Sometimes I hear stories about Detroit police and they are really positive, but other times I hear about them having bad tempers or using force,” she added, “so I wonder what de-escalation training and implicit bias training they get or what the policies around using force are.”
Applications for the youth panel are available online, at Detroit Public Library branches, and on DPSCD high school campuses as well as the universities. Youths under 18 must have consent from a parent or guardian to join.