State police halts patrols in high-crime Detroit precinct

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Michigan State Police officials said they have temporarily stopped patrolling one of Detroit’s most dangerous precincts to avoid stoking animosity in the wake of a controversy involving a 15-year-old ATV driver who died after a state trooper used a Taser on him.

There have been multiple protests following the Aug. 26 death of Damon Grimes, while his family’s attorney filed a $50 million lawsuit against the state.

State police Lt. Mike Shaw said Monday that officials decided about a week after the incident to suspend patrols in the 9th Precinct on Detroit’s east side, where they had been since 2012 as part of the state’s Secure Cities Partnership initiative.

“We moved the troopers out of the 9th Precinct because there’s such an obvious presence there, and to have state police cars in the area might cause problems in the community,” Shaw said. “If DPD needs support (in the 9th Precinct), we’ll provide it, but we thought it was a good idea to stop patrolling there for now.”

Shaw said residents may still see MSP cruisers in the area occasionally.

“If a trooper is working during the day and decides he/she is going to drive through the precinct, it’s possible,” he said. “We don’t have any directives to avoid that section of the state.”

The 9th Precinct is one of the city’s most crime-ridden. Last year, according to police statistics, 43 homicides occurred in the precinct, the second-most in the city behind the 46 slayings in the 8th Precinct, in northwest Detroit. So far this year, there have been 20 homicides in both the 8th and 9th precincts, the most in the city.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he understood the decision to pull troopers from the 9th Precinct, adding his department is wrapping up its investigation into the ATV incident.

“I anticipate we’ll be forwarding our findings to prosecutors within the week,” Craig said.

State police also launched a criminal investigation the day after the teen’s death. Shaw said Monday the probe is ongoing, but did not have a time frame for when it would be finished.

Shaw said the 10 troopers who had been assigned to the 9th Precinct have been reassigned to freeway patrols in Detroit “until we can take a look at the situation.”

“We don’t want to cause further issues,” Shaw said. “We’ll re-evaluate in a week or so to determine if our presence in the precinct is a good thing, or if it’s making it worse for (Grimes’) family.”

Shaw said Grimes was driving his ATV in the street of his east-side neighborhood, which is illegal, so a trooper ordered him to pull over. Shaw said Grimes didn’t comply, so the trooper pursued him and deployed his stun gun, striking the boy, who then drove the ATV over a curb and slammed into the back of a pickup.

The trooper, identified by a police source as Mark Bessner, was suspended the next day for allegedly violating department policy by using his stun gun while in a moving vehicle. Bessner was previously accused of excessive force in two separate lawsuits, although the cases against him were dismissed.

State police changed its policy in the city after the incident to mirror Detroit’s edict that officers refrain from high-speed chases unless they’re pursuing someone perceived to be a danger to the community. Prior to the change, state police routinely chased traffic violators and others committing nonviolent crimes.

State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, in 2015 introduced legislation to compel state police to adhere to local chase policies when patrolling those areas. The proposal never made it to the House for a vote, although Neeley said he planned to reintroduce the bill.

The Rev. W.J. Rideout, a community activist who has organized protests about the incident, criticized the decision to stop patrolling the high-crime 9th Precinct.

“I think that’s stupid,” he said Monday. “I’m not asking them to stop patrolling. We need all the police we can get. We need state police, Detroit police, the FBI. But make sure it’s righteous patrols. We don’t want them to send officers who are going to take the law into their own hands and kill people.”

While state police have patrolled in Detroit for a century — their first deployment in the city was in 1917, Shaw said — troopers since the 1970s generally handled the freeways, leaving street patrols to Detroit cops.

“Back in the ’70s, there was a huge amount of violent crime on the freeways, including some sexual assaults, so (former Gov. William) Milliken sent us to patrol the freeways in Detroit,” Shaw said.

Gov. Rick Snyder in 2012 launched the Secure Cities Partnership, in which state troopers augmented local police patrols in Detroit, Flint and Saginaw.

Shaw said the initiative has been successful. “There have been reductions in crime in all the areas we patrol under the Secure Cities Partnership,” he said. “In (Detroit’s) 9th Precinct, we have great relationships with the officers, and the partnership has been working great.”

He declined to say how many troopers are assigned to Detroit overall. “It depends on the day,” Shaw said. “We don’t give out exact numbers for obvious security reasons.”

Shaw insisted pulling troopers from regular patrols in the 9th Precinct does not mean MSP is reducing its support to Detroit police.

“We’ll still send in our aviation unit, K-9 unit, lab (technicians), and have troopers patrolling the Lions games, per our contract,” he said. “And if the 9th Precinct commander called and needed help, we’d send our troopers there.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN