Detroit police to eventually leave federal oversight

DETROIT Mon Aug 25, 2014 3:42pm EDT

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DETROIT (Reuters) - Detroit police on Monday began a transition away from federal oversight that was launched more than a decade ago after accusations about excessive force and its witness detention practices, officials said.

The U.S. Justice Department had set up a court-ordered monitor in 2003 for Detroit police after a 2-1/2-year investigation concluded there was a pattern of misconduct.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn in Detroit terminated that agreement between the Justice Department and Detroit police and approved a plan both have agreed on that would end federal oversight of the department in 18 months.

The steps taken Monday come at a heightened time of national scrutiny of police forces, particularly after a white police officer shot dead an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

The shooting of Michael Brown, 18, touched off two weeks of demonstrations, including clashes between protesters and police and a visit to Ferguson by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who has launched a federal inquiry. Brown's funeral was held on Monday.

"Today's transition agreement with the Detroit Police Department is yet another example that law enforcement agencies can change to better serve their communities when they commit to meaningful reform," Holder said in a statement.

Detroit, which is under bankruptcy court supervision, in 2013 sought to take back control of the police force after naming James Craig as police chief.

Craig launched a series of high-profile raids culminating in several arrests after becoming chief, but raising concern among supporters of federal oversight who said the ongoing busts could lead to more complaints of excessive force.

Detroit Police spokesman Sergeant Michael Woody said Monday the department has improved its practices under federal oversight and other departments could look to Detroit as an example.

"We're all very excited being able to move in this direction, but understand this: We still have 18 months of self-reporting and self-auditing to be done. We have a long way to go still," Woody said.

(Reporting by Aaron Foley; Editing by David Bailey and Jonathan Oatis)

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