Detroit Police Chief Has to Ignore Some Crimes

Money woes mean some suspects are released early or not arrested at all.

ByABC News
September 28, 2009, 1:11 PM

DETROIT Sept. 28, 2009— -- Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans was traveling in an unmarked police car on one recent shift when he spotted a Chrysler mini van run through a red light.

Evans and his driver, Lt. Eric Jones, turned on their police lights and sirens to quickly pull the driver over. When asked for his license, the driver admitted he didn't have one.

Evans then did what is unthinkable for most police officers. He let the man go without even issuing a citation. The chief's only show of disapproval was a stern "drive carefully" as he walked away.

That one stop in so many ways illustrates the challenges facing the Detroit PD. The force is trying to secure the city's dangerous streets with extremely limited resources.

There are not enough beds in the city jails so some suspects are released, or minor offenders, like the minivan driver, often are not taken in. The in-car cameras and computers in most squad cars don't work so officers can't record traffic stops, run license plates and check for warrants. Officers, even in high crime areas, must leave their patrols to file police reports.

"He certainly is a legitimate arrest," Evans said of the minivan driver. "But is it worth being out of service for an hour and a half in an area where the priority runs could be significant in that hour and a half?"

When Evans took over as Detroit's top cop back in July, he inherited one of the most challenged police departments in the country. Detroit led all large cities in murders per capita last year with 375 homicides. This year, more than a thousand people have been shot.

Officers complain they are overworked and underappreciated. A recent study by a Wayne State University professor found the suicide rate among Detroit cops is higher than that of New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles officers.

In an unusual tactic, Evans goes on patrol twice a week. It was on one such patrol that he stopped the mini-van driver.

"It gives me an opportunity to get close to what citizens are seeing and feeling and what officers are dealing with," Evans told ABC News on a ride-along on patrol recently.