Explaining the Detroit Police's Return to Precincts

After moving to larger districts, the Detroit Police Department reverses itself and moves back to smaller precincts


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In 2005, the Detroit Police Department consolidated its 13 precincts into six larger districts as a cost-cutting measure enacted by then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his appointed police chief, Ella Bully-Cummings.

Now, six years later, Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. is in the process of restructuring the department back into the smaller precincts.

Why?

Godbee cites two primary reasons. First, he says, “The community has never embraced losing their local precincts.”

And second, “When we migrated from precincts to much larger districts … we removed that artificial barrier between two precincts. What it provided for was a much larger area to police.”

Though the combined area remained the same size physically, Godbee says it still resulted in a change to the way it was patrolled. “The precinct that had the most calls for service, that’s where the cars predominantly were driven to. … And it really left a gap in services for the rest of the district.”

To illustrate, he points to the 5th and 9th precincts. The two shared a border and “worked extremely well together,” says Godbee, a former 9th-precinct commander. “I was accountable for a certain geographic area; my counterpart was responsible for a certain geographic area. And, absent some exigent circumstances, there was a level of geographic integrity to where those officers patrolled.” When the line between the two was removed, Godbee says it caused the 9th to see a greater police presence, while the 5th lost out.

And issues arose from each district having two commanders. “I’m a firm believer … that if two people are in charge, nobody is in charge,” Godbee says. “I thought it was really important to the community to know who the leader of their precinct is.”

But Godbee can’t take all the credit for the turnabout. The move away from districts began in early 2009, when then-Police Chief James Barren announced plans to reopen a number of precincts in response to an “outcry of city residents who didn’t grasp the district concept,” The Detroit News reported.

Currently, the police department is in the process of finding buildings to house still-closed precincts. According to police spokesperson Sgt. Eren Stephens, no deadline has been set for completion of the transition.

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