From the desk to the street, that’s the idea behind the Detroit Police Department’s decision to close precincts and district headquarters to the public after 4 p.m.
To explicate, the argument goes that instead of having law enforcement officers working behind a desk into the wee hours of the night the city would be better served if those officers were out on the street, patrolling crime-ridden neighborhoods and communities.
The move is not expected to save the economically wracked city any money. Rather, it is designed to take advantage of under-utilized personnel.
Chief Ralph Godbee explained to reporters that two clerks have typically staffed the midnight shift at each precinct and on average they only take approximately two reports each night.
Overall, the Chief expects the new move to put 100 to 150 more officers on patrol, which may be good news for officers considering the department’s beleaguered forces.
A decade ago, Detroit had 4,000 officers. Now that number is down to 2,700, with 100 more in danger of losing their jobs if the city doesn’t secure federal grant money.
While the population has certainly decreased over the years (1.8 million in 1950 to 700,000 today), the size of the city – 139 square miles – hasn’t changed.
“We have done a disservice to our community by spreading ourselves thin, giving citizens the belief that we will respond to things that are not an emergency,” Chief Godbee told reporters.
The changes are mainly “for those brave men and women that are overtaxed out there” answering calls for service, he added.
By putting more officers out on the street, Godbee hopes to reduce violent crime (Detroit has seen a spike in the murder rate and has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country).
“I think it’s going to work,” Detroit police Cmdr. Steve Dolunt told reporters. “I think it’ll get the officers more involved” with citizens.
But critics have argued that limited public access and the transition to what has been referred to as a “virtual central office” (during off hours) will have the opposite effect.
Minister Malik Shabazz told reporters that residents should be able to go to the police station when they need to.
“I have a great deal of admiration for Chief Ralph Godbee, and I don’t like publicly siding against him on anything, however, whoever proposed this to him should be fired because they’re obviously using some of the illegal substances that they take off of the street,” Shabazz, told reporters.
“This is insanity. This is preposterous,” the community activist added.
For the critics, Chief Godbee was quick to point out that the precincts won’t be completely abandoned. There will be a skeleton crew working there, performing essential duties (supervising the jails).
But he would prefer if people familiarize themselves with the telephone reporting system for non-emergences, e.g. neighborhood complaints, property damage, minor car accidents, etc.
“If the situation calls for me to have an officer come to the station to deal with them,” he said, “I would rather do that than have that officer sitting there like the Maytag repair person.”
Detroit is the first major city to curtail public access to precincts and districts.