Wayne Co. seeks to take on Detroit game security

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Will Detroit police continue to handle security duties at Comerica Park this year, or will the Wayne County sheriff’s deputies take over?

As Opening Day approaches, it’s unclear who will provide police protection at Detroit Tigers games this season — and who will pay for it.

Wayne County officials have drafted a proposal for Wayne County sheriff’s deputies to replace Detroit police in handling security and traffic control duties in and around Ilitch Holdings’ downtown venues — Little Caesars Arena and Comerica Park — starting in June.

The plan also would allow the county to hire private security guards to patrol Tigers games this summer as well as Red Wings and Pistons games at the new arena when it opens in September.

Detroit taxpayers never have been reimbursed by Ilitch teams for police patrols, going back to when the Tigers played at Tiger Stadium. But the draft proposal, submitted last week to the Wayne County deputies union, calls for Ilitch Holdings to pay the county an undisclosed amount for patrols.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he’s not been consulted about the proposal, adding he plans to deploy officers to Comerica Park and other Ilitch venues until he’s told otherwise.

“This surprised me,” Craig said. “I have not had a conversation with (Ilitch Holdings director of security) Rick Fenton about this, but I plan to discuss the matter with him some time in the near future. As far as I’m concerned right now, our commitment to provide security for (games at Ilitch venues) has not changed.”

Fenton, who spent 27 years at the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office before being hired to run security for Ilitch Holdings, is spearheading the plan, multiple sources told The Detroit News. Ilitch Holdings did not respond to The News’ request to interview Fenton.

The proposal, which also covers patrols for non-sporting events held at the Ilitch venues, is contingent on approval by the Wayne County Deputy Sheriff's Association union. No date has been set to vote on the plan that was drafted by the county executive and sheriff’s offices.

Union president Brian Earle said deputies would assume patrols in June if the proposal is adopted.

Detroit for years has been one of the few communities nationwide that provides free police service to professional sports teams. But while the city has given Ilitch teams a pass, the Lions have reimbursed taxpayers for patrols since Ford Field opened in 2002.

The decision not to charge Ilitch teams for patrols was made by a previous administration, said John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, on Friday.

Detroit has a Secondary Employment program for officers, although only a handful of off-duty cops work the downtown details, which are largely staffed by officers on overtime from the Downtown Services Section, Detroit police public information officer Adam Madera said.

If the county proposal doesn’t pass, Detroit police will be reimbursed for “reasonable security costs” for off-duty officers in the Secondary Employment program to patrol in and around Little Caesars Arena when it opens, according to a 2014 agreement between the city and Olympia Entertainment, a division of Ilitch Holdings.

The 2014 agreement, which does not define what is considered a reasonable cost, only covers the new arena and it’s unclear whether the city will continue to provide free patrols at Comerica Park if the deputies’ union fails to approve the proposal, Roach said.

Tigers fans meet "Baby," being ridden by Detroit Officer Derryl Shelton, who was patrolling outside Comerica Park before a game in 2014.

Roach said he did not know whether a written agreement exists that allows Ilitch teams to get free patrols. The News has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking any such agreement.

Ilitch Holdings officials requested the patrol change, said James Martinez, spokesman for county Executive Warren Evans.

“Ilitch Holdings approached the county asking if it could provide security for Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers games,” Martinez said in a statement. “We’re working with the sheriff’s office and union representation to determine if the county has the resources to provide this service. We see it as a way to contribute to the downtown revival if the logistics work.”

Ilitch Holdings spokesman Doug Kuiper said Friday he didn’t know why his company requested the change. Kuiper said he would try to get answers from company officials.

The Lions reimburse Michigan State Police and Detroit police for overtime costs. The agencies patrol in and around Ford Field during games, Lt. Mike Shaw said.

If the county’s plan is adopted, it’s unclear how much Ilitch Holdings would pay for patrols. A copy of the draft Memorandum of Agreement obtained by The News does not contain financial details.

“That is being determined as we explore this proposal,” Martinez said. “All expenses must be covered by Ilitch Holdings.”

Kelly Miner, spokeswoman for Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, added in a statement: “The county will enter into a separate contract with Ilitch Holdings to recoup expenditures associated with the provision of service.”

Both Detroit police and Wayne County sheriff’s deputies for years have struggled with manpower shortages. No matter which agency patrols the Ilitch venues, there will be an additional strain on resources because the Pistons are scheduled to play 41 regular-season games at Little Caesars Arena next year. The team is set to return to Detroit after it left in 1978.

The agency patrolling the arena also will be responsible for 41 regular-season Red Wing games, along with other concerts and events. The Tigers play 81 regular-season games at Comerica Park.

Earle, the union president, said he can’t fathom why the county is developing the plan amid a manpower shortage.

“We’re already extremely short,” Earle said. “The county is paying more than 50 hours a day overtime in the jails because the officers are constantly getting ordered over for double shifts because there aren’t enough officers to staff the jails. Why in the world would they want to stretch us even thinner?”

The proposal would expand the work week from 40 to 48 hours for officers not assigned to the Jail Division. Supervisors would decide where officers would work the additional eight hours. One of the options would be the sports details.

Miner acknowledged the manpower shortage in the sheriff’s office but said patrolling Ilitch venues would help attract and retain officers.

“Many officers are stuck in various assignments throughout the Sheriff’s Office and it is believed that the ability to work in a different environment, one which comprises popular sporting events and the ability to deal with the general public in a manner which they are currently precluded from doing, will expose them to a different dimension of police work and lead to an increase in morale and retention,” Miner said.

Reggie Crawford, a Wayne County deputy who also sits on the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, said the plan would be a raw deal for deputies and taxpayers.

“There’s nothing in this for deputies,” he said. “If I work 56 hours, two days of overtime, this says the county can order me to come to work on my day off.

“I also don’t like the provision in the proposal that lets the county hire outside private security companies to do the patrols. There are no details about that. Who will these private security companies be?”

Although manpower numbers for the patrol details are not included in the proposal, Martinez said the plan calls for “28-42 officers per game depending on which sport, for 6-hour shifts on game day.”

Through the years, there have been occasional efforts by the city to charge the Ilitch organization for police patrols. In 2005, when the city cut the police department budget by $20 million, resulting in the layoff of 150 officers, then-police chief Ella Bully-Cummings told The News the department would “look into” getting out of providing free security.

The city negotiated with the Ilitch organization for months before the City Council in April 2006 suggested passing an ordinance forcing the company to pay about $1 million per year for patrols, The News reported. The ordinance was never enacted.

Most municipalities, both locally and nationwide, are paid for providing police at sporting events. The Lions reimbursed Pontiac when they played in the Silverdome, and the Pistons paid Auburn Hills for patrols at The Palace.

Ann Arbor is reimbursed for University of Michigan games, although East Lansing taxpayers foot the bill for city police to patrol Michigan State University games, East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier said

Crawford said Detroit should have recouped millions of dollars for patrolling Ilitch events that could have been spent on other pressing needs.

“There’s no excuse for a city like Detroit, with all its financial problems, to be taking away resources that could be deployed somewhere else, so that billionaires can get free patrols,” he said.


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN