James David Dickson
The Detroit News
DETROIT — The Detroit Police Department is looking for a few good men and women — 400 or so by year’s end.
Money is no longer the problem since the city can afford to make a $500,000 advertisement buy. The challenge is getting the word out on the job openings and filling them.
“We’ve got the money to hire 200 officers right now,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. “The budget isn’t the problem anymore.”
The ultimate goal is to recruit enough candidates to eventually make 400 hires, Duggan said.
The cash crunch that drove Detroit into bankruptcy also took a toll on paying and keeping police officers. Now that the city is six years out of bankruptcy, the highly visible recruiting push is attempting to show candidates that Detroit has emerged from financial distress and can afford to pay its law enforcement officers better.
When James Craig rejoined the Detroit Police Department as chief in 2013 — he started with the department in 1977, but layoffs led him to spend his formative years with the Los Angeles Police Department — starting pay was $29,000 a year, he said.
Now, it has risen to $40,000, Duggan said, and will increase again to $42,000 in July.
“That’s still below suburban departments,” the mayor said. “But we’re hoping to bust the myth that we don’t have resources. We are making huge investments in the department. I wish I could give every precinct commander another 10 or 15 officers to put on the street.”
The city has long faced suburban competition for already trained, early-career Detroit police officers, Craig said. This year it already has lost 10 officers to its regional neighbors, he said.
But as starting salaries rise, the city can better compete with communities throughout Metro Detroit. Although Detroit has more violent crime, it also has more opportunities for varied work and more policing challenges.
“In a suburban department, you might not ever get to work in an investigative unit, or on surveillance, fly a helicopter, work a marine unit, or be a K-9 or SWAT officer,” Craig said.
“In some cities, you can be a patrol officer for 20 years,” Duggan said.
That said, “policing is a dangerous job,” Craig admitted. “I applaud the courageous young people who join the police service and who continue to want to serve” after colleagues die in the line of duty.
In November, Officer Rasheen McClain died in an ambush while investigating a home invasion on Detroit’s west side. He was the 228th police officer in the department’s history killed in the line of duty.
Detroit was America’s most violent city in 2018, the last numbers available, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data.
The campaign will start with two video ads, 30 seconds and 40 seconds long.
The shorter ad starts with a young black male putting on his running gear.
“I've always been a runner, but I’ve never run from anything,” he says. “And neither has my city.”
“Do you want to be a Detroit police officer?” challenges a police academy instructor, his face inches from the recruit’s.
“Sir, yes sir!” the recruit responds, eyes fixed forward.
Another instructor leads a class through push-ups.
“It’s something special, to protect the people closest to you, the ones you’ve known all your life,” says the young man, now a trained and sworn officer. “Your neighbors, your friends.”
His mother looks at him admiringly. He straightens his badge, #2501. Pay starts, the ad advises, at $40,000 annually.
“I was born in this city,” the officer says. “And I’m not going anywhere.”
The campaign includes digital media, posters and billboards, said Lashinda Stair, first assistant chief.
“We’re hoping that people within the city see those things because they’re all within the parameters of the city of Detroit,” Stair said.
All candidates are welcome, though, as the department casts a wide recruiting net to replace retirees. The department hired 304 officers last year, Stair said.
While the number seems large, Duggan said it barely allowed the city to keep pace with retirements.
Since the ad campaign started in late January, applications are up 35%, Stair said.
The Detroit Police Academy is demanding, said Assistant Chief James White. It entails “80-100 additional hours of training” above the 594 hours required by the state’s police certification body, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, White said.
The department has tried to remove any cost-related barriers that might lead applicants to shy away. Participating in the academy is mostly free, aside from some out-of-pocket costs. Candidates’ start date is when their training starts, and training is paid, White said.
The next barrier to remove is that candidates be physically ready when academy training starts.
While about 90% of people who start Detroit police academy training complete it, the inability to pass the MCOLES physical fitness qualification held back 60% to 70% of those who don’t finish, Craig said.
In the past, the department would urge out-of-shape candidates to improve their fitness and try again in a few months, Craig said. But people still needed to find work in the meantime, and often those who found it never reapplied for the police force.
“People get in the best shape of their life at police academy,” White said. “But it’s not a place I’d recommend to get in shape.”
So in January the department started a 90-day cadet program, which helps would-be candidates attain the physical fitness necessary for police academy training ahead of time. Cadets are paid $15 an hour.
“(Police academy) is quite physical,” White said. “But it’s not something you can’t accomplish if you put your mind to it. We have instructors that will work with you on nutrition; we give you yoga classes. It’s a great opportunity for someone who is thinking about it, but needs to shore some things up physically, or recommit themselves to exercise.”
Two cadets have already joined the police academy, Craig said.
Desmond Hill, 37, stopped by the police department’s recruiting table last week at a job fair in the Northwest Activities Center on Meyers.
“I’m interested in, like, surveillance and IT and stuff like that, so part of doing that for the police department is going through the training process,” said Hill, who used a crutch that day.
Hill said he dislocated his knee while helping his sister move.
“The knee popped out, popped back,” Hill said, but he planned to be back up and running in a few weeks, perhaps training for the rigors of the police academy.
“I’m a Detroiter, man, born and raised. I’ve been shot at, I’ve been stabbed. Straight A’s in school, but the neighborhood I grew up in wasn’t safe,” he said. “If I can take my love for video and technology and be a benefit to my community, so it can be easier for kids now than it was for me, that’s a no-brainer.”