October 4, 2013 at 1:00 am


Police officer watched Detroit decline from front-row seat

Detroit— Dave Bashur spent 32 years as a Detroit cop and suffered few delusions of eradicating crime.

When he joined the force in 1972, Detroit was well on its way to becoming America’s murder capital, with 601 that year. By the time he retired in 2004, he had seen the ravages of the drug wars and decades of disinvestment.

“You never get rid of crime. You move it or you make it appear that it isn’t there,” said Bashur, 63.

It was an early lesson for a kid from northwest Detroit who grew up insulated from long-festering violence and racial problems that exploded in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

Bashur is the son of a die designer for Chrysler and remembers a childhood of bicycling through the neighborhood, Cub Scout packs, parochial schools, packed Masses on Sundays and tinkering with cars.

It was such an innocent time for him that, when the city burned in 1967, its biggest impact was a weeklong curfew that prevented him from going to the movies at the Mercury Theatre on Schaefer.

“We all jumped in the car and went up to the gravel pits in Clare to go swimming,” Bashur said. “It didn’t affect us one bit.”

Five years later, he was a rookie police officer assigned to walk a beat in the 10th precinct at Livernois and Elmhurst. The city’s homicides had quadrupled in 10 years to 601 in 1972 from 131 in 1962.

“You turned around and said, ‘Wow, the city has changed,’ ” Bashur said. “You just saw the devastation and the business people weren’t rebuilding.

“You start going to banks and seeing plexiglass. You had heroin coming in from Vietnam, the factories weren’t kicking like they used to, and the word on the street was it was nothing to get someone whacked for 50 bucks.”

The police force, never a stranger to controversy, was beset with it. Mayor Roman Gribbs’ formation of decoy unit STRESS (Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets) led to an outcry that officers were targeting African-Americans and was a major issue in Coleman Young’s election in 1973 as the city’s first black mayor.

It was still a time, though, when officers shadowed paper boys so their collections weren’t stolen. Bashur said he and other officers so loved the job they arrived at the precinct hours early to socialize with each other and didn’t want to take vacation.

Bashur settled with his wife and two children near Six Mile and Grand River. They called it the “DMZ,” a buffer from the rest of the city. Initially, anything west of Greenfield was safe. The border shrank to Southfield, then Evergreen and Lahser.

“Then it was gone,” Bashur said. “Before, you’d go shopping at night. Then, you don’t do that.”

In 1993, Bashur was in then-Police Chief Stanley Knox’s office awaiting the verdict on Larry Nevers and Walter Budzyn, white officers charged with beating to death an unarmed black man, Malice Green, outside a suspected crack house.

“We were preparing plans for a riot, and if they did, then turn out the lights,” Bashur said. “We had a black mayor, black police chief, black judge and black jury. I told (Knox), ‘If they riot, everything you’ve been preaching is a lie.’ ”

They were convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and his city stayed calm. But it had already changed.

In 1986, Bashur moved his family to Northville because his son has special needs. Residency rules forced him to sleep at his father’s house on days he worked. When they were abolished in 1999, he gave up the pretense.

Bashur is philosophical. People in the city are good. It’s the economy that’s changed. The auto jobs that financed his youth evaporated. Something had to take their place. It was the drug trade.

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'You never get rid of crime,' says retired Detroit cop Dave Bashur. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)