Retort to the Chief’s Memo

Radical Washtenaw received Chief DeGiusti’s response to our report, “Why Are Black People in Ypsilanti Disproportionately Arrested on Bench Warrants?” We appreciate that DeGiusti took some time to attempt to address some of the questions raised in the RAW report via his memo to City Manager Ralph Lange, dated February 22, 2016. Here are some problems with the memo.

  1. Rhetorical arguments which skirt the questions of the RAW report and further the lack of transparency around police practices.

In his memo, DeGiusti argues that the RAW report does not prove anything; he does not disprove any of RAW’s claims, however. Instead, DeGiusti makes several rhetorical arguments, but unfortunately he does not provide any additional numeric data which, he claims “would take a vast amount of staff time” to obtain. RAW was very transparent about the limitations of the publicly-available data and about the need for cooperation from the police departments, courts, and county to obtain more accurate and comprehensive data. The Chief has access to relevant data that could go a long way towards clarifying the situation, yet he does not provide it.

  1. The only evidence provided—an email from Lt. Deric Gress—just mentions a code change, not a change in how multiple warrants are recorded.

The only new information provided by DeGiusti was an email from 2012 indicating that the state police (MSP) instructed YPD to use code 5015 for all bench warrant arrests. DeGiusti made reference to this email to claim that in 2013 YPD began reporting multiple warrants for a single individual as separate incidents. However, the MSP email from 2012 makes no mention of how to record multiple warrants for the same individual. Therefore, DeGiusti’s claim is not supported by the evidence presented.

  1. Are YPD and EMUPD the only departments in the county and the state doing it right?

One may presume that other police departments received the same updated guidance from the MSP. DeGiusti’s reasoning would have us believe that perhaps YPD and EMUPD are the only departments in the county properly reporting bench warrant arrests under the 5015 code. This seems both unlikely and unsupported by the evidence presented. He does not address the high rates of arrest in Ypsilanti compared to Michigan cities outside the county.

  1. City diversity is impacted when Black people are disproportionately arrested in Ypsilanti, whether they are residents or visitors to the city.

Chief DeGiusti and City Manager Lange express their commitment to Ypsilanti’s motto—“Pride, Diversity, Heritage”—and take offense at concerns raised about potential racial bias in policing practices in Ypsilanti. DeGiusti accurately points out that the data do not disclose where an arrestee resides (which RAW’s report also clarified at length) and asserts that this undermines any claim that Black people in Ypsilanti are disproportionately impacted by bench warrant arrests. However, quite obviously the city’s diversity is also impacted when Black people passing through, perhaps visiting friends or relatives or attending school, are arrested on bench warrants.

  1. Chief DeGiusti’s suggestion of reducing bench warrant arrests by increasing money bonds so poor people cannot leave jail is a cynical proposition.

Perhaps most disconcerting is DeGiusti’s suggestion that, if we really want to reduce arrests on bench warrants, perhaps bonds should be increased in order to keep defendants in jail. In his own words:

Perhaps courts should increase the amount of funds required to get out of jail. This would prevent some defendants from getting out of jail and therefore make their appearance guaranteed (p. 7).

In this thinly-veiled threat, DeGiusti seems to be insinuating that if members of the community raise questions about policing practices, they might just make matters worse for defendants, especially poor defendants. We don’t need to look far for evidence of the racist and classist implications of DeGiusti’s proposition. In a letter dated March 14, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice warned state and local courts against fine and fee practices that punish the poor, including pretrial money bonds that disproportionately impact people of color. For details, we hope all city and court officials will read “Justice Department Warns State and Local Courts Against Fine and Fee Practices That Punish the Poor.” While YPD is not responsible for bond policies of courts, Chief DeGiusti is responsible for advocating unconstitutional bond practices that disproportionately harm poor people and people of color.

*

If you would like to read Chief DeGiusti and City Manager Lange’s rebuttals for yourself, please contact the City of Ypsilanti Clerk at 734-483-1100 to request them, and let the City know that you are concerned about this matter. If you’re interested in getting involved with this investigation or simply would like more info, contact RAW here.

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