Civil rights group to release report claiming racial bias by Ferndale police

Ferndale — The Michigan chapter of the Council on Islamic Relations is set to release a report Thursday that claims to have found racial bias among Ferndale police — the latest allegations of racism to be leveled at a suburban Metro Detroit police department.

The report, titled “Lifting the Veil on Racial Profiling in Ferndale,” is based on “the findings of an investigation into the city of Ferndale’s Police Department’s policing practices along the 8 Mile Road border it shares with the city of Detroit,” CAIR’s Michigan chapter said in a Wednesday press release.

A Ferndale police patrol car sits parked along Woodward Ave., in Ferndale, August 16, 2023.

CAIR Michigan director Dawud Walid told The Detroit News Wednesday that he’s forwarded the results of the two-year investigation to the U.S. Department of Justice and Detroit Police officials. He said the study found Ferndale police “often write tickets in Detroit to motorists of color traveling on 8 Mile who never even drove into Ferndale.”

Walid said further details of the study would be disclosed during a 10 a.m. press conference at the agency’s Canton Township office. The study is based on statistics obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and Ferndale Police’s Transparency Dashboard, CAIR’s press release said.

Black people make up 5.3% of Ferndale’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while the city’s police data dashboard shows that Blacks represent 68.7% of the 3,419 arrests made since 2019. Of the 24,881 traffic citations Ferndale Police have issued since 2019, 45.2% of the motorists were African American.

“We believe there’s a pattern of racial profiling by Ferndale Police,” Walid told The News.

Ferndale Police Officer Jillian Mahlmeister said Wednesday: “We’ve not been contacted by (CAIR) about any current issues or concerns. If we do receive any material from them, we’ll certainly review it.”

Some law enforcement advocates say statistics about traffic stops are misused to unfairly taint cops.

Robert Stevenson, Director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police — who during his seven-year term as Livonia police chief was accused of heading a racially biased police department — said such allegations are often based on a “misuse of statistics.”

“One of the fallacies from these groups is that they’ll look at the percentages of who is being stopped or arrested, and then make the claim that those stops or arrests were the result of racial bias,” said Stevenson, who was Livonia’s police chief from 2004 to 2011. “But just because a higher percentage of a certain group is represented, that means nothing — you need to look at who is actually committing the offenses, and then ask whether the police are fairly stopping or arresting people who are committing those offenses.”

Stevenson said the notion that arrest and traffic ticket statistics should match a community’s demographics is misguided.

“If you were to base involvement in the criminal justice system on demographics, then we have a huge problem, because there’s one demographic group that’s way overrepresented in the system — they’re called males,” Stevenson said. “If we base law enforcement on having equity in the criminal justice system, then we need to start arresting a lot more women.

“Of course, that’s ridiculous, because based on observation and victim reporting, we know that a lot more men commit crimes than women, and that’s why more men are arrested,” Stevenson said. “The same thing is true when it comes to other demographics — clearly, there’s a discrepancy, but that’s a socioeconomic issue, not a criminal justice issue. You can’t blame the police for arresting somebody after a crime is committed, or for writing a ticket when a traffic law is broken. Those officers are just doing their jobs.”

Ferndale’s dashboard shows that traffic tickets are written to men 47% of the time, with women receiving 33% of citations, while 20% are listed as “unknown.” Of the arrests police made since 2019, 70% of the suspects were men, and 30% were female. According to the Census Bureau, Ferndale’s population is 51% men and 49% women.

When informed about Stevenson’s comments, Walid replied: “The Ferndale Police have been policing 8 Mile, and systematically stopping motorists of color in Detroit who never drove in Ferndale. They’re going into Detroit to pull people over, and our report will show that. This is my response to (Stevenson’s) dismissal. The statistics, Ferndale’s own data, don’t lie.”

In its press release Wednesday, CAIR said it initiated its investigation into Ferndale’s policing practices in October 2021, when the agency filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its police department on behalf of motorist Helana Bowe.

Bowe is an African American Muslim woman “who was stopped by (the) Ferndale Police Department while traveling along 8 Mile Road inside the city of Detroit and subsequently arrested and forcibly stripped of her hijab for a booking photo,” CAIR’s Wednesday release said.

Ferndale settled the lawsuit in May 2022. As part of the settlement, Ferndale police “institut(ed) new policies allowing Muslim women to maintain their hijab when a booking photo is taken and prohibiting cross-gender searches in the absence of an emergency,” according to a CAIR press release issued following the settlement that included a $37,500 cash award to the plaintiff.

After the settlement, Ferndale Police Chief Dennis Emmi said in a statement that his officers “were simply following departmental policy, which includes photographing hair as an important identifying feature. Now, in reviewing the case and circumstances, I see the opportunity for our policies to evolve to better meet the needs of our community.”

Ronald Haddad, who retired in 2022 after 14 years as Dearborn Police Chief, said his department was accused multiple times during his tenure of racial bias and said he tried for years to combat that perception.

“We really pushed our officers to treat people equally with civility and respect, but we also made sure the officers knew that no matter what, some people feel a sense of insecurity and indignation when the police stop them,” Haddad said. “That has nothing to do with the officer; it’s just how it is and you just have to ignore that and do your job, and treat people the same.

“We were assailed for stopping more people of color than our population, but the reality was that we had far more people of color driving through our community than the actual population, so that wasn’t a fair way to use those statistics,” Haddad said. “Activists will take on a cause if it helps them, but we were not mistreating people.”

The CAIR report to be released Thursday isn’t the first time Ferndale Police have been accused of racial bias. In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter to Ferndale police officials asking for an investigation into allegations of racial profiling by officers.

Along with the letter, the ACLU released data that showed 66% of the 4,189 citations issued in 2013-13 in which recorded were issued to Black motorists.

ACLU-Michigan attorney Mark Fancher, who authored the 2014 letter, was not available for comment Wednesday, ACLU officials said.

In his 2014 letter to Ferndale police officials, Fancher wrote: “Racial profiling contradicts this country’s most fundamental principles and ideals. Every person should be able to live without the fear or experience of being singled out by law enforcement and treated differently because of their color.”

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