February 11, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Police drive Conyers' son to private school

Officer assigned to council president, but use as chauffeur for son criticized amid soaring cop overtime.

An unmarked Crown Victoria police car drove Monica Conyers' son to school Monday and Tuesday. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

DETROIT -- Council President Monica Conyers has been using a police officer and department-issued car to chauffeur one of her sons to a private suburban school about 15 miles from the city.

It's unclear how long Conyers has used the officer to escort her son, but Detroit News staffers witnessed an unmarked Crown Victoria police car drive the youth to school on Monday and Tuesday.

On neither day did staffers see Conyers in the car or at the school. The car windows were heavily tinted.

But Conyers and her spokeswoman maintain she was in the car -- perhaps sleeping in the backseat -- and always accompanies her son with the officer. Police backed up the assertion.

Her spokeswoman, Denise Tolliver, said Conyers has no choice: The police say she needs protection even to escort her child to school.

"She had insisted on driving him herself," Tolliver said. "That's her alone time with him. She was told she shouldn't be by herself without an EPU officer. What is she supposed to do? It's a catch-22."

The incident is the latest involving Conyers and the eight police officers budgeted to the council. She took heat from colleagues in November for taking two police officers to a National League of Cities conference in Orlando, Fla., which included some overtime for the officers. A recent police report showed overtime costs doubled after she became council president in September.

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said he would have a problem with council security driving 15 miles out of the city for Conyers' son. He argued it doesn't make any difference whether Conyers was in the car.

"This is clearly a deviation from her route to work," said Kenyatta, who heads a committee that oversees council security. "It's not a question of, 'I asked to have my child dropped off on my way to work.' "

"If that is the case, it's completely inappropriate and a misuse of ... the officer," Kenyatta said. Council security "is not for the family. It is for the council member themselves, the elected official."

Tolliver has said that, as next in line to become mayor and as a woman, Conyers needs protection.

Tolliver couldn't provide specifics for how long police have driven Conyers' son to school. But Tolliver said it's a recent arrangement that came after Conyers went without a police escort during some of December and much of January, in part because the officer would show up late.

The arrangement isn't unprecedented.

Conyers' predecessor, Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr., took his kids to Detroit Public Schools while he was driven by a police officer in a city car, said spokesman Daniel Cherrin. Cockrel's wife, Kimberly, has an officer assigned to her.

As mayor, Cockrel has used the police to drop off his kids at school when he wasn't present, Cherrin said. Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick also used police protection at times when he dropped one of his sons off at a Detroit public elementary.

Police spokesman James Tate said the driver with Conyers on Monday and Tuesday told his supervisor that she was in the car with him and the son. And Tate said he was told that any other time the son was with a council police officer, Conyers was in the car.

The officer with Conyers on Monday and Tuesday was recently pulled from the city's Western District to drive Conyers.

He may rotate into a permanent place with council security, Tate said.

When asked if the trip out of the city was an appropriate use of police officers' time, Tate said: "The officer is assigned to the City Council president."

Typically, only the council president has a police officer, who can also serve as a driver, accompany her regularly outside council chambers.

But individual council members can request protection.

You can reach Christine MacDonald at (313) 222-2396 or cmacdonald@detnews.com">cmacdonald@detnews.com.