Reality TV Gig Prompts Detroit Police Chief’s Ouster

Aiyana Stanley-Jones's killing prompted some to argue that city cops have grown more violent as they've preened for the cameras.

By Jamilah King Jul 22, 2010

Embattled Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans announced his resignation this week, after months of mounting criticism over his force’s close ties to reality TV shows. Many observers have speculated that the presence of a reality TV film crew during a home raid in May incited officers to use excessive force and accidentally kill 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones. The final straw for Evans’s tenure appears to have been a six minute video promo featuring him in a new show called "The Chief." A local TV news program was set to leak the promo, which led Detroit Mayor Dave Bing to ask Evans to step down.

The clip reportedly shows Evans dressed in heavy police gear, confronting suspects, and saying, "It is my job to keep the city safe. I’ll do whatever it takes."

For some, that approach simply wasn’t working. Although violent crime took a notable dip during Evans’ brief one-year tenure, there were more reports of increasingly brutal police tactics, leading some to accuse officers of trying to show face for the cameras. Most notably, there was the tragedy of Aiyana Stanley Jones, who died when an officer’s gun discharged as the Special Response Team raided her home. Television crews from A&E’s "First 48" filmed the incident, and the department faced a torrent of criticism from local police accountability groups who charged cameras have been inciting police aggression and turning the city’s violence into a spectacle.

An editorial in the Detroit Free Press argues that Evans’ decision to use Special Response Team officers to serve certain homicide warrants may have heightened tensions as well. But that may be an understatement.

Detroit’s police department has been federally reprimanded at least twice in the last decade for issues relating to excessive force. Shortly after Jones’ murder, Ron Scott, founder of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, harshly criticized the department’s military-style raids.

When Scott spoke to ColorLines back in May, he noted that the general climate of policing had dramatically shifted in recent years, and speculated that at least some of that had to do with TV cameras. Special gang task forces have been traveling through neighborhoods in armored vehicles and using grenades to enter civilian homes, he said. According to Scott, any real decline in the city’s violence was due to increased community-led efforts at conflict mediation and he encouraged officers to become more active in these efforts.

The investigation into Jones’ death continues, and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has not commented directly on whether the case had any direct impact on Evans’ forced resignation. Instead, the mayor cited "feedback internally and externally over an amount of time."

Photo: Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans (Getty Images/Jamie Rose)