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911: DPD Chief takes control

Chief James Craig DONALD BARNES PHOTO

Chief James Craig
DONALD BARNES PHOTO

Chief Craig addresses fear in Detroit, morale at DPD and internal efficiency

By Heidi Jugenitz
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Have we reduced fear in the community? Detroit Police Chief James Craig poses this question to citizens as a measure of his success in Detroit.

In an interview with the Michigan Citizen, Chief  Craig acknowledged the serious challenges facing local law enforcement but expressed optimism about his ability to turn around a police department mired in inefficiency and low morale.

Less than two months into his two-year contract, Craig has made several changes in an effort to build a more accountable and professional police force for Detroit. These include returning more officers to the street, disbanding virtual precincts, establishing a carjacking task force and reinstating a special gang unit.

Craig plans to supplement these early reforms with additional strategies designed to increase accountability within the department and rebuild trust between the department and the public. The introduction of CompStat, an integrated crime mapping and performance management tool, is one such strategy. Routing out promotions based on personal or political relationships, and moving towards a “flatter” organizational structure are others.

Questioned about the challenges facing law enforcement in Detroit, Craig singled out desensitization to crime as a major drawback. “There is a numbness (to crime) here,” he said, citing the nonchalant response to carjackings as an example.

He also acknowledged the need to restore officer morale and repair the fractured relationship between the community and the police force.

Greater community partnership is a central strategy for achieving his longer-term objectives of reducing violent crime, improving police morale and restoring the credibility of DPD with the public, Craig said. He described a vision for a more open DPD — one that would welcome community participation in CompStat sessions and emphasize community policing. “Detroit was a national leader in community policing in the 70s,” Craig stated, noting that the department has since moved away from community policing.

Painful cuts

Morale of the rank and file, however, may lie beyond the reach of these organizational reforms.

An August 2012 pay cut of 10 percent for the rank and file of the DPD has proven especially difficult. New officers in Detroit are now paid $30,000 a year, compared to $44,000 in Toledo, Ohio, even though violent crime is much higher in Detroit. Many DPD officers work secondary employment just to put food on the table for their families.

A veteran officer at DPD, who requested to remain anonymous, shared his candid view of plummeting morale within the department. “It’s worse than ever today,” he said. “I like James Craig, but he can’t take care of us and build our morale up while he makes a quarter of a million a year and we have two jobs.“

The DPD is currently hemorrhaging officers at a rate of 20 and 25 per month. And while Chief Craig and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr have attributed low morale and high attrition to poor working conditions — including run-down equipment and twelve-hour shifts — officers indicate that pensions and pay are their most immediate concerns.

Reginald Crawford, a retired DPD officer who will be serving as Police Commissioner starting in January 2014, echoed the importance of pay to officer morale.  “They need to give the 10 percent back,” he said.

Crawford also advocated for a reinstatement of the residency requirement for DPD officers, noting that the policy strengthens the tax base and recycles money within the Detroit economy, ultimately creating a resource base that can be used to support officer pay.

Craig, however, signaled that this was not part of his agenda as police chief, and that he was more concerned with his officers’ conduct on the job than their place of residence.

“Deaf ears”

As they struggle to make ends meet, some officers say the incessant focus of Orr and the business community on vehicles and equipment rings hollow.

“I don’t care about a new car or a Taser if I can’t afford to put food on the table for my family,” the officer said.

If current pay is the most immediate concern for officers, the prospect of misery in retirement also looms large. Police pension cuts negotiated in 2011 have been superseded by the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings, which are expected to slash future pension payments to pennies on the dollar.

“We fear we won’t ever be able to retire,” the veteran officer said.

Compounding the stress of working multiple jobs is a sense of apathy toward officers’ plight from state and local leaders.

DPD’s leadership has reportedly told officers that it “cannot get (them their) money back.” Local television reports have focused on slow burglary response times, while failing to acknowledge front-line officers’ material and physical sacrifices.

Orr’s team has struck an antagonistic tone with the Detroit Police Officers’ Association over pension obligation estimates, threatening to reduce the union’s standing in bankruptcy negotiations if it does not accept the Emergency Manager’s estimate that the police and firefighter pensions are only 78 percent funded.

Governor Rick Snyder, who called for the “reinvention” of public safety in Michigan, has largely ignored the quality-of-life issues facing local law enforcement, choosing to focus on regionalization, new technologies, and greater presence of Michigan State Police in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw.

In his July newsletter, DPOA President Mark Diaz drew a connection between officer morale and Emergency Manager budget decisions, noting that Orr “says he needs time to find the money” to compensate underpaid officers, yet recently appointed a deputy for himself at an annual salary of more than $200,000. Diaz lamented that the plight of officers has fallen on “deaf ears.”

Lowering the bar

Officers suggest that rock-bottom morale has manifested itself in lower standards of performance within the department, encouraging a devil-may-care attitude towards anything but the most violent incidents. Officers write fewer tickets and make fewer court appearances. Some opt not to write up reports on crimes that do not result in injury.

Low morale has also impacted some officers’ participation in union meetings. Exhausted from working twelve-hour shifts and second jobs, some officers who were previously stalwart in their support for the union choose not to attend.

Craig has promised to return to eight or ten hour shifts, a change that DPOA and most officers welcome.

But restoring a sense of pride and dignity to police work will be hard so long as the current pattern of imposing hardship on the rank and file continues. “Cops are miserable, sad and broke,” the veteran officer said. “The money never goes to the worker bees. It goes to the top brass.”

 

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