Critics say Detroit police drug unit needs outside probe

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — As a Detroit police-led task force continues investigating allegedly corrupt drug cops, some critics are calling for chief James Craig to let an outside agency take over the probe.

In response, Craig said Detroit police are in the best position to determine not only whether officers broke the law, but how to address what he said was a "lack of supervision that allowed this to happen."

The investigation started Aug. 22, when Craig ordered Detroit internal affairs officers to raid the police department's own Major Violators Section, formerly the Narcotics Section. Investigators seized and analyzed 50 computers and dozens of records.

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

In the four months since the raid, Craig said investigators have uncovered allegedly rampant corruption by a few units that included planting drugs, robbing dope dealers and filing false search warrant affidavits.

Although the files seized in the raid go back 10 years, Craig said the investigation so far has only looked at the past year and a half. He said the probe started with a small team of Detroit police investigators, but the chief asked for outside help after discovering the scope of the alleged corruption.

The team of 17 investigators on the case includes FBI agents and members of the Michigan State Police and U.S. Attorney's Office, police officials said — but the inclusion of people from outside agencies isn't enough, Willie Bell, a member of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, said at a meeting Thursday.

"It is troubling, and I’m concerned," Bell said. "I think it’s time now that this should not be led by DPD. We should ask for an outside agency, like the FBI, to take the lead in this, since that's what they do best."

Bell reiterated Monday that Craig should recuse himself from the investigation.

"I just think the public would have more confidence in this investigation if DPD was not leading it," Bell told The Detroit News.

Detroit News columnist Bankole Thompson echoed Bell's sentiment in a Sunday op-ed piece.

"Change, as we know, starts at the top," Thompson wrote. "Craig should let a third party agency lead this effort to transform our Police Department into something Detroiters can trust."

Craig said he's building trust with the community by being transparent. "We've been completely open about this from the start," the chief said. "People need to realize: We're not hiding from anything. We initiated this whole thing."

He added the probe, which stemmed from the federal indictment of former narcotics officer Michael Mosley in August, goes further than the FBI's investigation, which he said only covered criminal violations.

"The FBI already investigated Mosley, and they were finished," Craig said Monday. "I had a hunch that his criminality didn't just stop with the activity covered in the indictment, so I ordered a further investigation, and it turns out, my hunch appeared to be right.

"My goal isn't just to have people who engaged in this alleged criminal behavior indicted," Craig said. "I want to totally eradicate this corruption, which has been plaguing the narcotics unit for decades."

Craig said a federal investigation that led to the convictions of former Detroit drug cops David Hansberry, Bryan Watson and and Arthur Leavells after they were caught ripping off drug dealers and stealing money and drugs that had been seized in raids, didn't go far enough.

"The problem with the Hansberry case is, the feds did a four-year investigation, and what was missing was the factors in the drug unit that led up to the criminality," Craig said. "This is not a criticism of the FBI, but they're primarily concerned with getting indictments, where I'm trying to also fix the issues that allowed this kind of wrongdoing to go on, which isn't the FBI's purview.

"If I knew then what I know now, I would have ordered this type of investigation right after Hansberry (and the other two former officers were) indicted," Craig said.

Craig said investigators are looking closely at the crews to which Hansberry, Watson, Leavells and Mosley were assigned.

"At this point in the investigation, we've not found problems with the entire narcotics unit," Craig said. "While the core part of this is looking at Mosley's crew, we're not going to stop there. There's a nexus to the Hansberry and Mosley cases.

"I recognize that there are times when it's necessary to bring in outside agencies to lead an investigation, and I've done that before," Craig said. "But in this case, we're taking the lead. I'm confident we'll do a more thorough job than anyone else for this type of probe, which, again, is looking at not only criminality, but departmental policies and practices that need changing."

Craig said he has "extensive experience" investigating corruption, including during his time as a Los Angeles cop, when he was part of the team that looked into widespread corruption in the LAPD's Rampart Division in the late 1990s, in which 70 cops were implicated.

"Back in the '80s, there were LAPD officers in the Hollywood Division who were burglarizing high-end appliance stores," Craig said. "They'd smash the windows and go shopping, taking what they wanted to take. After this was discovered, one of the officers said 'we would only commit crimes when certain supervisors weren't working.'

"I don't care what example of corruption you bring up — it always comes back to lack of supervision," Craig said. "That's part of what we're trying to find out now: How was this allowed to go on for so long?"

The Rev. W.J. Rideout, pastor of All God’s People Church in Detroit, said he trusts Detroit police to spearhead the investigation.

"(Craig has) been transparent from day one, so let's support him," Rideout said. "If anyone knows what need to be fixed in their own house, it's DPD. I think every government department should do what the chief is doing right now, from the White House on down."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN