Operation: Restore Public Relations

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The state's FOIA law doesn't require the department to create new reports, but officials later explained DPD would have to go to great lengths if it chose to fulfill such a request — suggesting no records exist of arrestee names who were eventually charged with crimes as a result of the raid. (How DPD then arrives at an exact figure of arrests like 1,172 is correspondingly unclear.)

Without such records, it's impossible to analyze whether arrests in raids actually lead to convictions, which is at least one barometer with which to measure their success.

The city also made clear that no record exists of those who were prosecuted and convicted following an arrest in a raid.

"Based on information provided by DPD personnel, it is our understanding that in order to fully comply with your request, they would have to research the requested information and make a compilation, summary, or report of the requested information from multiple sources, including the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the court," wrote Ellen Ha, the city's FOIA coordinator, in a letter to MT last month.

The lack of data bridging the two departments — police and prosecutor — likely stems from how police measure success as it relates to an operation, law enforcement experts who spoke with MT said.

"The prosecutor doesn't measure success in arrests, because anybody can be arrested in a sense," said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. "The police aren't necessarily looking at that next step — well how many people did you really get? Or, how many prosecutions were there really? To the police, that's almost irrelevant. But for public safety, it's not just arrests, it's successful prosecutions."

That last part of the equation, while not the only way to evaluate the department's efforts on crime, is important given how giddily it touts the first part of the equation.

"The common sense logic would be if you're putting together an operation like this, and you're going to be making such a big deal of it, you're going to be having some people asking some questions" and need the records to answer, said Stuart Henry, a professor of criminal justice at San Diego State University and the former chair of Wayne State's department of interdisciplinary studies. "With that many arrests in 17 raids — that is huge. You cannot do that and say, 'We haven't any data on what we just did.' You've got to be accountable on that."

Stephen Downing, former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said large-scale drug raids create a vacuum of activity that, eventually, will be filled once more.

"Does it do communities any good? My answer is no," Downing said. "It only feeds the spiral of violence and crime, and it also feeds the breakdown of families."

Cynthia Johnson is a local talk-radio host who lives in the Petosky-Ostego neighborhood on Detroit's west side, an area that was targeted by Operation Mistletoe in December 2013. She's among those who have seen some positive outcomes under Craig's watch.

As a result of the chief's efforts, "I think you have more people who are willing to speak up," she said.

Some of the lingering issues in the neighborhood remain prevalent, however. Driving with a reporter down her block on Montgomery Avenue, Johnson came to a full stop. "Do you see this shit?" she said.

She threw her finger toward a house on Montgomery's north side and stared in disbelief at a two-story home that she says was in fine shape only a week prior. Now, it looked as if a bomb exploded inside. Garbage and clothes were strewn about the yard.

The drive continued up the street to Whitlow's Barber Lounge, a mainstay of the neighborhood that recently celebrated its 52nd anniversary.

"We're a tight-knit community," said barber Frank Stoner.

It's a common refrain echoed in the shop: Everyone looks out for one another, and that's what helps residents stay safe. Stoner offers one explanation for why, according to him, crime in the neighborhood has dropped in recent years: There are nowhere near as many people living there anymore.

"In essence, I'm saying less people, less crime," he said.

But the opportunity for squatters to stake out a home and cast a presence on the neighborhood has caused problems for others. Angela Young, who lives across the street from Johnson, said a few years ago she was robbed while she was out of her home. Now, under Craig, there's a noticeable difference — only because apparent troublemakers operate under the radar.

"I'm not naive, but it's still going on," she said. In Johnson's estimate, as many as four drug houses operate in her neighborhood.

Still, Young said Craig has made drug dealers uneasy, and that's fine in her opinion.

"I'm all for what he's doing," she said. "I don't want him to stop. I don't want anyone to get comfortable."

In what's perhaps the most emblematic example of Craig's ability to win over the community, Barnett, the attorney who represented a Colony Arms resident and who is largely critical of DPD's usage of search warrants, even commends the chief.

"He really is an excellent police chief," Barnett said. "You have to be able to show people that they're knocking down doors, and that's always going on ... But it's been much better now."

Asked if that opinion conflicts with the issue he takes with warrants, Barnett said, "The people who are poor, they catch more flak than anybody. That's just the way of the world and the ones who the need the police the most, the ones whose constitutional rights need to be protected, they most are often the ones whose rights are not protected."

Henry, the San Diego State criminal justice professor, said cuts in recent years to social welfare programs by the federal government, compounded by years of neglect in the city of Detroit, has created a "toxic social environment" in some communities like Detroit.

The substantive point that should be raised, he said, is the impact on society when those threads are weaved.

Since 2012, Detroit police have employed a so-called "broken windows" policing strategy, in a partnership with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York-based conservative think tank. The policy, according to advocates, involves a zero-tolerance crackdown on low-level crimes in order to prevent larger ones.

The approach can be counter-productive, as Henry described it. Not just that, but there's nothing to suggest broken windows is a superior method that has achieved lower crime rates; other cities have implemented less aggressive strategies and have achieved similar drops.

"The irony is, when the police end up being called for small incidents, they don't have the resources to go into areas and deal with [larger issues] early on," Henry said. "What happens is that stuff builds up over time."

The larger systemic issues continue to manifest, Henry said. And as in the case of Colony Arms, years of problems go neglected until one day you get a big response like a raid led by 150 officers.

"That's ass-backwards," Henry said. "You wouldn't have the problem to solve if you dealt with the increasing decline of those community infrastructures. You've got a systemic problem, you've got to deal with it at a broader level rather than say, 'Let's launch a raid.'"

The problem is cyclical, experts said: The nation's policies have supported the militarization of police departments, in tandem with the increased frequency of raids, now with more than 40,000 annually in the United States. In turn, a system of mass incarceration has been fundamentally established, which recent studies indicate has done little, if anything, to deter crime. Meanwhile, the government has trended away from supporting investments in education and the social safety net, spurring lower incomes, said Michele Jawando, vice president for legal progress at the Center for American Progress, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

"People don't want to talk about long-term investments," she said. And while scholars have historically debated the correlation of poverty and crime, studies indicate systemic poverty is a chief factor that leads to crime — to which the nation has responded by policing more aggressively and incarcerating more individuals at an ever-increasing rate. In other words, we've facilitated the creation of dilapidated hellholes.

As a result of aggressive policing strategies, professor Henry said, crime is not eliminated, rather it's just displaced — and then moves elsewhere into the community. "You're not dealing with the problem, you're just dealing with the symptoms," he said.

In that sense, when DPD boasts that Operation Restore Order raids "eliminate the criminal elements from the neighborhood," the claim ultimately becomes fuzzy.

"Our perspective, when somebody's arrested, even if they don't stay in jail a long amount of time, just the simple fact they were arrested, there was enforcement action taken," said LeValley, Detroit's deputy police chief. "Even if they're traffic warrants and they spend one or two nights in jail before they make their bond, I think that that still has an impact."

Individuals are scooped up and arrested, sure, but they are also released in short order. They move elsewhere. And after one day and a big show of force, the police move on too, to Operation Next Block Over.

About The Author

Ryan Felton

Ryan Felton was born in 1990 and spent the majority of his childhood growing up in Livonia. In 2009, after a short stint at Eastern Michigan University, he moved to Detroit where he has remained ever since. After graduating from Wayne State University’s journalism program, he went on to work as a staff writer...
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