Detroit police say: Enter at your own risk

Detroit police officers are warning people to stay out of the Motor City. Fearful for their lives, they want more pay and fewer hours at work. Sixty miles away, in Flint, the murder rate is set to surpass last year's record.

 

Baseball fans entering Comerica Park in Detroit were greeted with sign-wielding police officers who passed out fliers to “"let the public know they enter Detroit at their own risk." On October 6, more than 300 members of the Detroit Police Officer’s Assocation dressed in their soft clothes were present and urged Michiganders to vote against a ballot proposal coming in November that would re-assert the state government’s power to install emergency managers in failing smaller jurisdictions. The officers also urged voters to vote in favor of a ballot proposal that would reinforce collective bargaining rights for both private and public employees.  The officers also intend to demonstrate to the public that officers are overworked, understaffed, and fearful for their lives. Spokesman for the DPOA say that officers are demoralized and cannot afford to live within the city limits at the rate of pay they currently receive.
 
According to the Detroit Free Press, DPOA President Joe Duncan said that Detroit is becoming a more dangerous city, adding "In fact, the only thing I know that's going down in the city of Detroit is my paycheck and my membership." The Detroit police department is reeling after the suspension of the police chief on moral charges, while the officers and the city government are at loggerheads over a proposal to cut officers’ wages by 10 percent and put them on 12-hour shifts. The police officers’ contract expired in June of this year, while the city government tried to save $350 million in the fiscal year commencing July 1 by calling for changes to employee healthcare plans that would mean higher costs charged to employees, as well as changes to pension and work rules. The DPOA has 2,130 members. Wrangling between Mayor Dave Bing and the city council has added to political tensions in what was once one of the country’s most prosperous and progressive cities.
 
A judge ruled in July that the City of Detroit is not required to bargain with police officers over their pay and benefits. The DPOA, however, argues that the cash-strapped city must enter into arbitration under the provisions of Public Act 312. While it is illegal for public safety officers to strike in the state of Michigan, the law is designed to force negotiations. According to DPOA President Duncan, further cuts and increased hours would be disastrous for public safety.
 
Homicides have trended upward in Detroit since 2000, even while the population has been in decline and manufacturing has tanked. However, as of September 23 of this year, there were 287. In 2011, there were 346 murders, which was up from 2010 at 408. Detroit remains one of the nation’s most violent cities. There are currently 1,000 fewer police officers on the streets of Detroit than there were ten years ago. The murder rate is now higher.
 
Speaking at the “Enter At Your Own Risk” rally was DPOA attorney Donato Iorio. Speaking to WWJ Radio reporter Katrhyn Larson, the cop lawyer said “Detroit is America’s most violent city, its homicide rate is the highest in the country and yet the Detroit Police Department is grossly understaffed.” He added,  “The DPOA believes that there is a war in Detroit, but there should be a war on crime, not a war on its officers.” According to Iorio, the Detroit police force has shrunk from 2,000 officers since the departure of hundreds of officers since this spring. “These are the men and women who we look to protect us… and police officers can’t protect you if they’re not there. Officers are leaving simply because they can’t afford to stay in Detroit and work 12 hour shifts for what they are getting paid.”  Iorio argues that more police officers are needed, not fewer, in order to address the spiraling crime rate.
 
 
A Microcosm of Motor City blues
 
In Flint, the city that gave birth to General Motors that is a microcosm of Detroit, murders have now gone beyond 52 in a city of just over 100,000 people. At this rate, the number of murders for this year may set a record.  Abandoned houses and other structures invite vagabonds, drug dealers and arsonists, stretching the limited resources of the fire brigades and police department. The city jail was reopened on October 2 after being closed for four years. State of Michigan funds were required to make the lockup operational, while local police hope that it will allow them to now detain persons wanted in a backlog of over 50,000 outstanding warrants.
 
Flint had the nation's highest per-capita violent crime rate in 2010 and 2011. The local police chief says he needs at least 80 more officers to patrol the streets and supplement the 120 who serve now. Many of the victims of shootings were involved in the narcotics trade. Also notable is the youth of the offenders. In September, for instance, police arrested 15-year-old D'Angelo Y. Sawyers, who is now charged with murder, carrying a concealed weapon and felony firearms infraction. Also charged in the same case is Kewon M. Harris, 16, who is also lodging at the Genesee County jail. 
 
This year, Governor Rick Snyder (R) authorized the deployment of additional state troopers to the trouble city, who have made inroads in the city’s burgeoning narcotics trade. Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell, whose deputies are also stretched thin over a once thriving metropolis and out-county traded barbs with the local state trooper commander over the relative merits of their respective officers. 
 
First Lieutenant Matt Bolger of the Michigan State Police told a local newspaper, in response to local authorities’ suggestion that state money would be better spent on local cops, that taxpayers “kind of get what you pay for” as to police protection. He also lauded the MSP for a rate of case closings that is higher than the sheriff’s. Sheriff Pickell is asking for an apology. "I was stunned by (First Lt. Matt) Bolger's comment (that) local law enforcement officers, who are paid less than Michigan State Police, are inferior officers," Pickell said. "I think he owes an apology." Pickell compared the relative pay scales for state troopers and local police with a Cadillac vs. Chevrolet analogy.
 
As for civilian leaders, some are calling for improved community cohesiveness and more spending. Flint city councilor Omar Sims (D) said in an interview with the local press, "People are taking the law into their own hands," Sims said. "We do need more (police) officers, but ... more people have got to get engaged. We all have to get involved." Sims believes that crime can be stemmed with jobs and schooling. "It didn't happened overnight. Don't expect it to be resolved overnight," he said.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

Filed under crime, politics, police, crime, michigan, detroit, flint, union, labor, politics, North America

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