Drug reformers have lost a highly-placed ally with the retirement under pressure of Detroit Police Chief Jerry Oliver last week. Oliver resigned October 31 after becoming the target of an investigation by Wayne County (Detroit) prosecutors. Oliver was charged with misdemeanor possession of an undeclared handgun after federal airport inspectors found a loaded weapon in his checked baggage at Detroit Metro Airport on October 18.
Oliver, who was brought in by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in February 2002 to clean up the image of an out-of-control police department, brought with him a commitment to finding an alternative to the war on drugs. Oliver rose to national prominence when, as police chief in Richmond, Virginia, he came out in opposition to the drug war. "Our nation's premier drug-war strategy of more police, more interdiction, and more incarceration is failing and the trajectory continues downward," Oliver wrote in a widely-hailed op-ed in 1998. "A growing number of thoughtful Americans across the political spectrum have strong doubts about the efficacy of the current drug war, its costs, its true impact, and its future consequences. They want to rethink our direction and possibilities. As a police officer on the front line, quite frankly I'm one of them."
Mayor Kilpatrick described himself as "disappointed" and reluctant to accept Oliver's resignation. The chief was "a diamond to bring to this community," Kilpatrick said. Oliver had played a key role in erasing the stigma attached to the Detroit police, said Kilpatrick. "What this chief did in coming into this town is immediately erase that."
Although the Detroit Free Press reported that Oliver's resignation was greeted by cheers in precinct stations around the city, his replacement, newly appointed Chief Ella Bully-Cummings warned police that she will insist on the same tough discipline and accountability for misbehavior that alienated Oliver from many of the rank and file. The Detroit Police Department is currently working under two consent decrees with the federal government related to its lethal force policies and its treatment of prisoners.
And on October 30, one day before Oliver's resignation, a federal grand jury indicted 18 officers accused of stealing money and drugs during illegal searches of alleged drug dealers.