Detroit police board approves temporary 28% pay hike amid coronavirus emergency

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Two days after Mayor Mike Duggan announced he was cutting salaries and laying off thousands of city workers amid the coronavirus crisis, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners last week voted to increase the salary of its interim chief investigator by 28%.

The board's chairwoman says she took the city layoffs and salary cuts into consideration when suggesting a pay hike for Lawrence Akbar, but insists it's only temporary, and that it was granted because Akbar is working two jobs.

The board voted 6-1 Thursday to increase Akbar's salary from $82,000 to $105,000. Akbar has served as the interim head of the Board’s Office of the Chief Investigator since February, while also working as a supervising investigator in charge of a 20-member crew.

Lisa Carter, chairwoman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners

Board chairwoman Lisa Carter said during Thursday's "virtual" board meeting: "I know that there are budget cuts going on, but at this time (Akbar) is performing two jobs ... so I think it's appropriate for us to determine an interim salary."

After Carter suggested the $23,000 increase, the Rev. Jim Holley introduced the motion. Holley, Carter, Willie Bell, Annie Holt, Elizabeth Brooks and Evette Griffie voted to approve the pay bump, while William Davis cast the lone dissenting vote.

Commissioner Willie Burton claims he tried to vote against the raise, which will come out of the board's budget, but says he was having technical difficulties.

"I kept screaming 'no, no no,' but they couldn't hear me," Burton said. "I was having a problem with Zoom (the communications software used by the city to conduct virtual meetings).

"No way was I going to vote for that," Burton said of the pay increase. "It’s just not a good look to be giving people raises right after the city announced layoffs, and with so many people hurting right now.

"(Akbar) was already making more than the minimum (salary) for chief investigator," Burton said. The pay range for that position is $77,000-$129,000.

Carter told The Detroit News the increase to Akbar, who was named interim chief investigator on Feb. 27, was only temporary.

"Board members voted on the interim position and approved it with the full expectancy of adjusting the Interim Chief Investigator’s pay to reflect the additional responsibility above his regular position," Carter said in an email. "It clearly was always a temporary adjustment, and never a pay raise.

"It did take some time to consider the level of adjusted pay, especially in light of the current public health crisis and the announcement of cuts this week by Mayor Duggan," Carter said. "... we think the amount is fair for an Interim Chief Investigator and responsibly reflects the city’s current fiscal needs."

The City Charter prevents anyone who worked for the city within 3 years to hold the permanent chief investigator's job, so Akbar isn't eligible. It was unclear Sunday whether his pay would stay the same, revert to $82,000 or another figure after the interim assignment ended. 

The Office of the Chief Investigator, which is controlled by the board, looks into non-criminal complaints against police officers, such as claims of poor demeanor or unprofessional behavior. Criminal complaints are handled by the police department's Professional Standards Section, or internal affairs.

Akbar’s pay increase comes after a Detroit Inspector General report last year found improprieties that included the former board secretary creating a new position in order to give an employee a large raise, and manipulating job postings for hand-picked candidates.

Commissioner Willie Bell, who voted for Akbar's increase, said it was handled properly.

"There's no issue," he said. "We discussed this and voted on it during open board meetings. Mr. Akbar is doing two crucial jobs, and it's only fair that he be paid for doing that."