Detroit cops oppose pat downs before entering prison

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit police and Michigan corrections officials plan to meet Tuesday to discuss a controversial policy requiring officers to be patted down before entering the state-run Detroit Detention Center.

Police officials also are investigating two recent incidents in which officers violated the Michigan Department of Corrections policy by bringing weapons into the facility on Mound on Detroit’s east side; and whether a recent slowdown in processing detainees was due to officers dragging their feet in defiance of the rule.

The detention center, formerly the Mound Correctional Facility, is where Detroit police officers take criminal suspects to await arraignment. Prior to a 2013 agreement between the state and city to house detainees in the former state prison, cops took them to precinct lockups.

While other states, including Illinois and Ohio, require municipal police to leave behind their weapons before entering corrections facilities, many don’t frisk the officers — a practice that has outraged Detroit cops.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Assistant Chief Steve Dolunt said at a recent meeting of police officials. “We’re the cops; we shouldn’t have to submit to being frisked.”

MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said changes to the search policy were enacted in June, although officers may have only recently begun enforcing them. Detroit Police were not consulted on the policy change, which affected all of Corrections’ facilities.

“We run tight prisons in Michigan so we have to have tight controls of our gates,” he said. “Everyone either goes through the metal detector or is patted down, and that includes our director, the governor and police officers.

“We don’t ask the officers to go through the detector because they have a lot of things on their belts like handcuffs that would set it off, and it would be too cumbersome to have them remove them.

“So what we’ve said is either do the (metal) wand or the pat-down. They have not been amenable to that.”

Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, said the union has been raising concerns about the policy for a while.

“We bring criminals in, we’re not supposed to be treated like criminals,” he said. “It’s demeaning. Our officers are not going to be patted down and I’m glad the department is backing us up.”

Gautz expressed hope the issue would be worked out after Tuesday’s meeting.

“Hopefully ... we can come up with something that everyone will be happy with,” he said.

Dolunt and Assistant Chief James White sent a departmentwide memo to officers Friday, reminding them of the policy.

In addition to reminding officers to secure their firearms and other weapons before entering the facility’s designated no-weapons areas, the memo said: “Officers shall comply with the metal detection protocol in place at the time of admittance.”

The memo added: “Under no circumstances will an officer be required to submit to a pat down search of any kind in furtherance of this protocol.”

White said the memo was issued after two Detroit officers recently brought weapons into the facility.

“We’ve had 40,000 arrests in the past two years, and there were five breaches, two involving Detroit officers who failed to remove their weapons,” he said. “There’s an investigation into what happened.

“We’re willing to remove our weapons and go through the metal detector. But we’re not willing to be patted down.”

White said he’s also looking into a recent slowdown in processing detainees. “There was a backup, but we’re not sure if that’s because of the new process, or if it’s a deliberate slowdown.”

Gautz said he wasn’t aware of a slowdown. “We typically will be able to take a detainee in about seven minutes,” he said. “The officers walk through and hand off their detainee to a corrections officer.”

Gautz said there were Detroit officers who refused to submit to pat-downs — “but when that happened, we just brought our staff up and took the detainees back (into the facility),” he said.

The switch from locking up detainees in precincts to the detention center allowed Detroit to put more officers on the street by redeploying those who supervised the suspects.

The change also enabled the police department to comply more quickly with the federal consent decree, which ended last year. One of the problems that led to the 2003 judgment were the deplorable conditions of confinement in Detroit’s lockups.

White and Gautz said they expect the frisking issue to be resolved.

“We’ve had a good working relationship with the MDOC and we hope we can come to a quick resolution,” White said. “We’ve been happy with the collaboration; this is just an internal procedural issue that needs to be worked out.”

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