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Detroit taxpayers recoup costs for police patrols at Tigers, Red Wings games

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit police officers walk through the concourse level of Little Caesars Arena before the start of a Feb. 20 game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks.

For the first time in decades, Detroit taxpayers are being reimbursed for police patrols at Detroit Tigers and Red Wings games.

Until last year, the city provided free police patrols to the Ilitch family, which owns the Tigers and Red Wings — even while it charged the Detroit Lions, owned by the Ford family, for the same service — making Detroit one of the few cities in the country that wasn't repaid for policing all of its sports venues.

That changed in 2018, when the city recouped about $750,000 for police officers who worked Tigers games at Comerica Park and Red Wings games at Little Caesars Arena, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We're pleased that we have developed an arrangement that makes sense for DPD, the venue operators and taxpayers," Detroit's interim chief financial officer Dave Massaron said in a written statement.

The city has had no formal agreement covering police patrols during Tigers games at Comerica Park; or, prior to that, at Tiger Stadium, according to information obtained through a separate Freedom of Information Act request.

When the construction of Little Caesars Arena was being negotiated, the city and venue owner Olympia Entertainment in 2014 signed a contract stipulating the company would reimburse the city for police patrols.

The city last year also began charging the Ilitch family, which owns Olympia Entertainment, for patrols at Comerica Park.

A Detroit police officer monitors an entrance on the concourse level of Little Caesars Arena before the start of a Feb. 20 game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to Massaron, the demand for police patrols has gone up.

"As the request for DPD personnel at major events has increased over the years, everyone agreed that the higher staffing levels became more than DPD should be expected to provide without recouping those costs," he said.

Ilitch Holdings responded Monday to a request for comment with a statement issued by Shawn Platt, vice president for corporate communication. 

"We are very pleased with the work of the Detroit Police Department. They do an extraordinary job policing the area and keeping everyone safe," Platt said. "We take pride in delivering the best fan and customer experience and we could not deliver on that without the great support of the men and women who make up the Detroit Police Department.”

Little Caesars Arena opened in September 2017. Detroit police handled 17 home Detroit Pistons games and 21 home Red Wings games that year.

The city received about $939,000 for all police patrols at sports competitions and other events at Comerica Park, Ford Field and Little Caesars Arena in 2018, according to city records reviewed by The Detroit News.

The city was reimbursed about $162,000 for patrolling Lions games in 2018, with the rest of the money coming from patrolling concerts and other events, and providing escorts.

"Under the current invoicing arrangement, which has been in place for the past two years and working very well, the city has collected $2 million, which can be reinvested in other areas, such as DPD’s budget," Massaron said.

Through the years, city officials had unsuccessfully attempted to recover revenue for patrolling Ilitch-owned venues.

In 2000, former Detroit police commander Gary Brown, now head of the city's Water and Sewerage Department, complained to the City Council that Detroit was one of the few cities in the United States that wasn't getting paid for patrols.

City officials vowed to start charging the Ilitches for patrols around Comerica Park and Joe Louis Arena, but that effort petered out.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2005 rolled out a plan to start charging for police at sports venues and other events like the International Jazz Fest and Comerica TasteFest, but it was never implemented.

In 2017, Wayne County officials drafted a proposal for Wayne County sheriff’s deputies to replace Detroit police in handling security and traffic control duties in and around Little Caesars Arena and Comerica Park. 

The plan, which also would have allowed the county to hire private security guards to patrol games, was soundly defeated in a vote by members of the Wayne County Deputy Sheriff's Association union.

A number of factors go into deciding how many officers are deployed at a sports competition or other event, said Detroit police Capt. Franklyn Hayes, commander of the Downtown Services Section.

"We meet with the leadership of the venue or the promoter and make that decision," Hayes said. "We had USA Figure Skating here (in January), which draws about 7,000 people. So for an event like that, we wouldn't need to staff that with a lot of officers.

"But we just had (country artist) Eric Church at Little Caesars Arena, which sold out," Hayes said. "So we staffed larger there."

Hayes said about half of the officers patrolling games and other events work on overtime, "but whether they're on overtime or not, the stadiums still reimburse the city at the overtime rate," he said.

Hayes' Downtown Services Section does not oversee patrols at Ford Field; that responsibility falls to the Tactical Services Section.

Detroit police spokeswoman Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said Capt. Conway Petty, who heads the Tactical Services Section, handles major events downtown.

"It was just worked out that he would handle the Lions games, too, although he works with Capt. Hayes," Kirkwood said.

Michigan State Police also patrol Lions games. State police spokesman Lt. Michael Shaw said troopers and city officers share patrolling responsibilities, and that the Lions reimburse the state for the cost of the patrols.

Last year, in addition to patrolling 81 home Tigers games, and 41 home games each for the Pistons and Red Wings, Detroit police deployed officers to downtown events ranging from concerts to high school football games. Staffing levels fluctuated, depending on the event, city records show.

Lions games typically require the most officers. Last year, the largest deployment was 65 officers who patrolled the Oct. 7 game against the Green Bay Packers. By contrast, the Catholic League Football Championship at Ford Field on Oct. 20 required only one officer.

In addition to patrolling the venues and directing traffic, officers accompany performers and players on their way to and from venues.

"Officers escort the players from the airport, to their hotel, and to the games," Kirkwood said.

The largest escort detail in 2018 came during Oct. 26-28, when 24 officers — eight per day — were assigned to guard Seattle Seahawks players who were in town to play the Lions. The New England Patriots commanded 18 escorts on Sept. 22-23; while the Green Bay Packers required nine escorts on Oct. 7.

"If you have a really hated team, they'll get more escorts," Hayes said. "The city gets all those costs reimbursed."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN