Want to know one major reason crime is out of control in the city? Consider what I witnessed the other day when I was riding around with police on the east side.
A man was driving erratically. Cops rolled up behind him. The man sped away, blew a red light before eventually pulling over.
He had a bridge card but no driver’s license. He had thousands of dollars in traffic tickets and warrants. Cops cuffed him then searched his car. Finding no weapon, they let him go. Cops have to prioritize. That’s how it is in the most violent quarter of the most violent city.
“We’ve got no one to look after him,” said Sgt. Mike Osman. “We’ve got no jail space. And we don’t have enough manpower for us to go back to the station and do the paperwork. So you kick him loose. And everyone out here knows it.”
I inspected his squad car. A 2004 Crown Vic with 112,000 miles. The tires were bald. There was yesterday’s garbage on the floorboards. The air conditioner was broken. The spotlight was burned out. The video camera was connected to nothing because there was no computer.
Sgt. Osman wasn’t complaining. At the beginning of the shift at the Eastern District, cops were roaming the lot trying to scrounge a car. It’s so bad, a homicide detective told me he once had to take a bus to a murder scene.
Sgt. Osman was able to check the man’s criminal history by calling in on his cell phone. His personal cell phone, which costs him $100 a month.
This is your Detroit Police Department.
Without doubt, the No. 1 problem plaguing the city is crime. Murder and shootings are spiraling upward. Six people were found dead in two cars in just the past few days.
Chief Ralph Godbee told me: “It’s going to be a long, hot summer.”
Detroit’s number No. 2 problem is its finances. If city leaders don’t get it under control, then Gov. Snyder will assign an emergency financial manager who will.
So, not to be outdone by Mayor Dave Bing, the city council found an extra $50 million to cut from his budget. Among those cuts, $8.4 million from the police.
“I don’t like it,” said Charles Pugh, the council president. “But we have to make tough choices. It won’t lead to police layoffs because that’s money sitting around for 200 officers that were supposed to be hired but weren’t.”
But Chief Godbee said Pugh is misinformed if he thinks there is a pool of money sitting around in a Swiss bank account.
“I lost 200 officers this past year to attrition,” he said. “That means I can’t hire new officers. So we’ll have less cops this summer than we did last year. Those are layoffs.”
Who to believe?
Here are the numbers you’ll want to know. New York cut cops last year and murder went up 25 percent. Flint cut cops and murder doubled.
Detroit has already drastically cut its police force. The city had 5,000 sworn officers a decade ago and 4,100 five years ago. Today it has less than 2,800. That means Detroit has 377 cops per 100,000 people. Compare that to similar size cities with similar crime problems: Memphis has 428 and Baltimore has 480. It doesn’t add up.
Not only that, Detroit is in the bottom tier of major cities when it comes to spending on public safety, about 40 percent. As a comparison, Los Angeles spends more than 70 percent.
On the other hand, the Detroit City Council is the most expensive in the country, according to a recent survey. It was recently suggested by the charter revision commission that the council be cut from nine members to seven. The council lobbied hard and the provision was removed from the draft. That would have saved the shrinking city $1.2 million.
So ask yourself why the council has nine police officers at its disposal and a fleet of cars when there are less than 100 officers patrolling the streets of the entire city at any one time.
At the municipal yard on Russell Street, a shipment of new tires came in this week for the city council members’ cars. In the racks that hold tires intended for police cars, there was nothing but dust.
I asked a man who was locked up on a felony charge the other evening if we should be cutting the police budget. “Hell no,” he said. “We got babies out there.”
We got babies out there indeed. Who is the priority?
Tune in to Fox 2 News at 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15 as Charlie and his crew begin a series of reports demonstrating what a day of duty on the street is like for a Detroit Police Officer. Real, raw video from real life situations.