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Police Near Mutiny

Chief Ralph Godbee

By Marcus Wright and Puakea Olaisha Anderson

Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — The Bing Administration and Detroit Police top brass seem not to know or are ignoring the rumblings in the ranks. Detroit Police Officers Association President Joseph Duncan said officers aren’t happy.

“Would you be happy if your boss took 10 percent of your pay and told you, you had to work 12-hour shifts without overtime?” Duncan asked.

The officers began their mandatory 12-hour shifts last week. Patrol officers are the only members of the department who are affected by this change. Four weeks ago, Detroit police officers were also hit with a 10 percent pay cut and a 20 percent increase in health insurance contributions.

At the same time, crime in Detroit is increasing. This time last year there were 255 reported fatalities. This year, 277 murders have been reported. There have been 32 people murdered in the past 15 days. That is two people a day in a two-week period.

Police effort is needed now more than ever, according to residents, but many worry about morale.

New police officers are also affected by the cuts. They are hired in at $14 an hour, which is a little over $26,000 per year as opposed to the previous $29,000 salary for new recruits.

Wayne Circuit Judge Kathleen McDonald upheld Sept. 18 the city’s 10 percent pay cut and other benefit cuts to police officers. Duncan said the DPOA will appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the decision.The pay cut, implemented earlier this summer, is to offset the city’s budget crisis. Detroit officers’ top pay is about $47,000, while starting pay for police officers in neighboring Toledo is about $44,000.

According to Duncan, the DPOA met with the Bing administration last December. The two parties negotiated and agreed upon a plan in February. The officers consented to extract a 10 percent pay cut from their benefits. He added that, at the time, the DPOA was told the cuts would avoid an emergency manager.

The Bing Administration was double talking, says Duncan.

“The city stalled. They were waiting for the Financial Stability Authority,” Duncan said. “Then they hid behind it until our contract expired on June 30. On July 1 they imposed their terms of employment on us. They have compromised the safety of the officers and the community for a dollar value.”

Officers now face being overworked, underpaid and under compensated. Morale is low, according to Duncan.

“Everybody is down,” one DPD officer, who asked to have her name withheld, told the Michigan Citizen. “But I do not think it’s the mandatory 12 hours; it’s the 10 percent pay cut more than anything. It’s a bittersweet thing because you want to be there for the citizens, but you don’t feel like the upper echelon has your back.”

“They are not there for us,” her partner chimed in, also requesting to have his name withheld.

Another officer, who resides in Troy, questioned the cuts and called them a political move.

“Why would you cut fire, police and paramedics in order for you to make up the money? That makes no sense. We should never get cut at all. We are the people who are going to save your life,” he said. “When you do that type of stuff it brings morale down in all departments. For example if someone is having a heart attack, the EMS may not rush, because they may be thinking, ‘they cut my pay.’ It’s nothing personal it doesn’t make any sense, nowhere else but Detroit. I think this is all a political move. I believe the DPD is going to be taken over by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.”

Many believe police officers who live outside the city, nearly 50 percent, contribute to the problem. Officers who are not residents do not contribute to the tax base and only take from it. Chief Godbee, at a recent forum on the city’s crime problem, discussed the challenges the department faces with the lack of man power and resources but also said residency is an issue.

“In a sense, we hurt our own cause,” Godbee told the Michigan Citizen.

Many officers are also concerned with childcare issues and spending time with family. They complained about not having time to work second jobs to compensate for the cuts.

“The morale is super down because it affects a lot of people’s lives,” said another officer. “Some people have secondary employment. Some people have kids. Who are you going to have watch your children if you are working 12 hours? If you’re giving somebody a pay cut and now we have to pay to have people watch our kids for 12 hours, that could destroy families. Then I won’t have anyone to watch my kids and I will not be able to spend time with them.”

Deputy Chief Chester Logan says the top brass had no choice.

“The chief (Ralph Godbee) understands the officers are frustrated and angry. However, this is something that was thrust upon us,” Logan said in a telephone interview. “The city is broke. The state has come in and said this is what we’re going to do,”

Logan says if the millage DPD was seeking to have placed on the ballot had passed, the department could hire more officers.

“But the city council said it didn’t want to tax the citizens more,” he said, adding that Mayor Dave Bing indicated to DPD that he didn’t want to cut the officers’ pay.

“He took a hands-off policy. But it got to the point where his back was against the wall. He did what he had to do.”

Logan added that the top brass does not believe the 12-hour shifts have a negative impact on the officers’ ability to perform their duties. It was done, he says, in order to maximize the department’s resources and utilize officers most effectively.

“Fatigue certainly may be a factor in the beginning. They are used to working eight-hour shifts. Now they will work three days a week, 12 hours a day,” he explained. “They will work on a rotation schedule: three days (on), two days (off). They will know exactly when they are off. Also, they will get one weekend a month. Sometimes that weekend will be three days.”

He applauded the work and dedication of the officers.

“I think Detroit has the best police force in the country. They go out there every day and put their lives on the line,” he said. “They want to be treated fairly.”

Mayor Bing’s office had not returned calls by press time.

Residents are as concerned as the officers are about crime and police morale.

“I think it’s a shame they cut the police pay like they did and 12 hours is too much because who’s protected? I have a daughter,” Sighle Kinney said.

“It’s only so much they can do,” said Rhonda Davis.

Other residents had only questions. “What’s the solution? How can we fix this?”

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