Rev. QuanTez Pressley, the new at-large member of the Board of Police Commissioners, says he has an eye toward creating systemic change in policing. The lead pastor at the Third New Hope Baptist Church on the city’s west side, believes Detroit — as a majority Black city — should be a model for policing.
Pressley also said policing in Black and Brown communities must evolve. He is thinking about how the national conversation about policing has shifted after George Floyd and Breonna Talyor were both killed by police in unrelated incidents in 2020. Pressley said Detroiters are still debating among themselves what it means to have responsible policing, particularly for a predominantly Black community.
“I consider it my utmost responsibility to advocate on behalf of those who look like me, to ensure that when it comes to policing in Detroit, that their voices are heard, grievances are addressed, lives are preserved, and rights are protected,” he said.
As the former chief of staff to ex-Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, he monitored police board meetings and said police accountability is important for Detroit.
“The police department serves the community, so it’s important that the community has some oversight over how the police department is run and operated,” he said.
Pressley, who had his first meeting as a board member last week, was appointed to the police commission by Mayor Mike Duggan after vice chair Martin Jones died suddenly in December.
Before coming back to Detroit in 2017, Pressley got his master’s degree in divinity from the Union Theological Seminary in New York City and spent time working at the Kairos Center as a poverty fellow. He helped plan the relaunch of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign and said his focus on social justice has allowed him to think about systemic change.
“We may blame individual police officers or individual chiefs for things that are happening in the police department,” he said. “And while there may be some space for that, we also have to keep in mind the systems and the structures that often predicate the choices that they have in certain situations and environments.”
Pressley understands that the police use of surveillance technology like Project Green Light, facial recognition software and the Shot Spotter gunfire detection systems is a concern for residents, but he also is interested in how technology is changing policing and what efficiencies might be created. He believes residents and the police board must develop “the necessary framework, restrictions and policies” to guide the use of these new tools.
As the newest at-large board member, he welcomes active participation in public meetings and said he won’t shy away from controversial subjects in his new role. He is committed to discussing contentious issues with his board members, the police department and his community.
“In some cases, I think that tension is important,” he said. “I’m one of those people who says growth happens at the edge of discomfort and oftentimes in that tension comes some creativity and ingenuity.”
Pressley said despite heated debate, it’s important for Detroiters to be heard.
“We won’t be able to develop some sort of relationship with our community and the police department if we don’t allow those avenues channels to exist, no matter how tenuous the conversations might get,” he said.