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Detroit area cops scale back service to curb virus spread

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Inkster — Police departments across Metro Detroit are scaling back service in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Several departments have advised officers to stop responding to calls about burglaries and other nonviolent crimes, and are asking citizens to report those incidents over the phone or internet.

"We're only sending officers to the major Part 1 crimes — rape, robbery and other violent crimes," Inkster police chief William Riley said. "Anything else, we're asking that people make a report over the phone. We prefer them not come in the lobby at all."

Detroit police chief James Craig said Wednesday he's encouraging his officers to "relax our arrest posture on certain misdemeanors" so officers can limit contact with citizens. 

Detroit police chief James Craig

Craig said he's implementing measures to maintain "social distancing" between officers and citizens.

"We're asking our officers who are in a radio call situation, particularly those calls that are non-critical, that they be mindful and practice social distancing," the chief said. "On non-critical calls, maybe some type of dispute with no weapons and no violence, officers maybe will meet with community members at their walkway, and they can have a conversation at a safe distance."

Craig said he's also advising officers to "use more discretion when issuing citations or vehicle impounds." He said vehicles involved in crimes will be towed as usual.

"Effective immediately, we are relaxing our arrest posture ... on certain misdemeanors," he said. "The exception is high misdemeanors. We're talking about criminal sexual conduct 4, which is a misdemeanor; we're not relaxing on that. Or domestic violence — we're not relaxing on that.

"We're not turning a blind eye to crime," Craig said. "This is an encouragement only, not an elimination."

Warren police commissioner William Dwyer said his officers also are taking misdemeanor reports by phone.

"We'll also be taking our felony prisoners directly to the (Macomb County Jail), rather than putting them in our lockup first," he said. "That's obviously to limit our officers' exposure to the prisoners.

"Other measures are being taken as far as deployment, but I don't want to give the details," Dwyer said. "It won't affect our service to the public."

Craig said there's been a recent spike in "argument-based" shootings in Detroit, which he attributed to higher-than-normal tension.

"There's been a little reduction in some of the violence recently, but we're undoubtedly seeing more argument-based calls," he said. "Many of the shootings we've seen were argument-based. We know there's a heightened stress in our community. That's to be expected."

Police officials in other communities say they haven't seen any unusual crime trends recently — and some report lower-than-normal activity.

"There's been kind of a post-911 eeriness," Novi police chief David Molloy said. "There's not a lot of traffic out there."

In Troy, calls for service have plummeted in the past week, Sgt. Meghan Lehman said.

"From (March) 12th-18th, we've had 451 calls," Lehman said. "The week before that, we had 888. Looking at the calls, there's not a lot of crime; we've had a lot of people asking us to do welfare checks on relatives."

Riley said Inkster has also been relatively quiet recently.

"When people are cooped up together, nerves can sometimes get frayed, but we've not seen anything like that yet," he said.

Craig said he's mindful that the shutdown of several industries has created a financial hardship on many Detroiters. "When you talk about issuing citations, making misdemeanor arrests; those things have financial implications, and that can enhance stress," he said.

Craig encouraged citizens to call the Telephone Crime Reporting Unit at (313) 267-4600.

"We're adding positions to that unit so there will be more call takers," he said. "We're also deploying restricted-duty officers to those positions if they're not working in the field.

"All in all, what we're trying to do is create a safe balance for our community and our first responders," Craig said. "I can't stress enough that I want to applaud the work the men and women of this department are doing."

ghunter@detroitnews.com