Detroit police chief: Longstanding culture of drug unit corruption

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Selling drugs in any city is dangerous, as dealers risk being killed or robbed by rivals — but in Detroit, pushers for years also have known they could be ripped off by cops, police chief James Craig said Thursday.

"The culture here has been such that drug traffickers figured that was just the cost of doing business," Craig said during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters. "They knew 'I could get killed, robbed by my competition or robbed by cops.' It's not like that in other cities I've worked in."

Detroit police chief James Craig and Chris Graveline, director of the Professional Standards Section, address the media on Thursday.

Craig's remarks followed a Detroit News report about a four-month ongoing investigation that uncovered "a pattern and practice" of alleged corruption in the drug unit, called the Major Violators Section.

The allegations include drug cops planting evidence, lying to prosecutors in search warrant affidavits, robbing dope dealers and embezzling funds meant to pay informants.

The Detroit-initiated investigation started Aug. 22, when Detroit internal affairs officers raided their department's own drug unit, seizing and analyzing dozens of files and 50 computers.

Investigators also have interviewed more than 20 people whose drug houses were raided but were not arrested, and Craig said they told police it's no secret on the street that many Detroit drug cops were crooked.

In multiple instances, investigators found Detroit officers raided drug houses, seized money and drugs, and then told the dealers they could "work off the case" by giving police information about other drug houses.

After getting the information, Craig said the cops allegedly would "start the process all over again" when they raided the locations the dealers had told them about.

Officers would sometimes make confidential informants out of the people whose houses they'd raided without getting the required authorization from prosecutors, Craig said. Then, the officers allegedly embezzled the funds used to pay the informants, the chief said.

"Imagine you're a drug trafficker," Craig said. "A search warrant is executed at your home. Your next thought is, 'I'm going to be arrested.' Instead, you're getting paid, and that case is over.

"Those who are trafficking large amounts of drugs got a pass based on the decision of a police officer. They're not going to come knocking on my door saying, 'chief, we want to make a complaint.'"

Chris Graveline, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who heads the police department's Professional Standards Section, said the alleged corrupt cops could taint other cases in which they testified.

"The first thing you have to ask yourself is, what role did that witness play in my case?" Graveline said. "If it's a major role, then that's a big concern. Immediately, you're thinking 'I need to evaluate each of these cases, and how significant their testimony is in this case.

"This is going to require a lot of evaluation, not only by the Detroit Police Department but by prosecutors," Graveline said.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy declined to comment, her spokeswoman, Maria Miller, said Thursday.

The alleged corruption is thought to be so rampant, police officials set up a 24-hour hotline at (313) 596-3190 to encourage people to call in tips about crooked drug cops.

"It's been up 24 hours, and we've already started to receive tips," Craig said. "One of the things we've learned from the complainants we've already interviewed was that they expect (corruption by narcotics officers)."

Craig stressed the alleged crooked officers make up only a small portion of the police department.

"How are you going to put on the badge ... and you're as much of a criminal as the people you're going after?" Craig said. "If you make the conscious decision to engage in criminal conduct, you're no longer a police officer. We're going to find you, and we're going to arrest you."