The retirement of besieged Police Chief Ralph L. Godbee Jr. shouldn’t be seen as just about a sex scandal with a subordinate. His departure merely makes clear that one of the reasons crime ran rampant is because the former chief couldn’t keep his pants zipped long enough to catch criminals.
It’s also no secret that top-level management of the Detroit Police Department is in perpetual disarray. Absent a cogent crime strategy, the revolving door of police chiefs under Mayor Dave Bing’s leadership will take his playing roulette with public safety to a new level.
Godbee became top cop after his predecessor Warren Evans was fired, in part because of similar charges involving a subordinate police lieutenant. Bing knew at the time that Godbee previously had a romantic relationship with the same woman. In that case, Bing fired Evans.
Even in the midst of one of the worst crime waves in the city’s history, the mayor praised Godbee as being a consummate professional who had his complete confidence. But despite Godbee’s overactive libido, when it came to fighting crime the former chief proved to be impotent. A crisis in confidence reached the tipping point and Bing couldn’t give Godbee another pass.
The excesses and flaws under Godbee are glaringly apparent. By most accounts, the city’s law enforcement arm is generally looked upon as a poorly managed closed fraternity. Favoritism pervades the promotion and disciplinary system. Internal policy is inconsistent with coping with rising street violence. The ongoing probe into Godbee’s misadventures adds to the department’s record of malfeasance.
Perhaps because he has yet to understand that the first responsibility of government is to provide a safe and secure environment, Mayor Bing and his top cop failed to provide direction and results sufficient to arrest staggering crime. Nor has the mayor been able to reassure a terrorized community that relief is on the way.
Detroiters struggle to survive in a city rife with ruthless, wanton and gratuitous violence. Residents, who live behind bars and elaborate security systems, are afraid to venture outside. Hoodlums, thugs, gangs and drug dealers control neighborhoods.
The community, where the criminal is bred, is also beyond enlisting to help deal with the mayhem that is generally viewed as uncontrollable and inevitable under the most favorable circumstances.
The department’s conventional – but flawed –policy is incident oriented; a citizen reports an incident and police respond, albeit rarely. The city is at the limits of the 911 emergency call system. If there’s not a murder in progress cop won’t show up. That leaves a serious deficiency in the capability of cops to rapidly respond to calls that might result in apprehension of felons.
Recurring malfunctions and gaping cracks in police deployment make a compelling case for a top-to-bottom brooming and reorganization at 1300 Beaubien. But shaking up the police department requires more than a new day-to-day manager. The restoration of its integrity and credibility calls for a coherent, aggressive law enforcement line of attack. New blood in the upper ranks, possibly brought in from out of town, may help in this regard.
But if Mayor Bing were truly concerned about the day-to-day safety of his people, he would have declared at this week’s news conference that he was rescinding all police and fire personnel cut. He would have unapologetically declared that safe streets and neighborhoods is his #1 priority. He would have demanded that the City Council privatize, outsource or eliminate all non-mandated programs and services to keep cops on the job and accelerate the hiring of enough cops to bring down crime to tolerable levels.
Hiring another chief to try and make the same tired public safety engine grind a little harder just won’t cut it. That this was the best the mayor could muster places in jeopardy the little public trust Detroiters have left – as well as his political future.