Detroit Police Grapple With Corruption and Changing Policies Under Federal Scrutiny

​The Detroit Police Department ended an internal investigation to root out fraud in its narcotics unit. DPD is also trying to introduce new technology to stop criminal activity within its towing practices. 

As one investigation into Detroit police corruption ramps up, another one has ended.

The Detroit Police Department is trying to overhaul how it uses tow companies amid a widening federal corruption probe. The move comes as DPD ends “Operation Clean Sweep,” a two-year investigation into the department’s narcotics unit which has implicated 12 officers.

“I’m not making excuses. I’m going to make changes,” says Detroit Police Chief James White. “That type of conduct is unacceptable. And if it’s a member of this police department, it is my job to ensure that that’s not the case.”

“The practice of releasing or flipping felony drug offenders has ceased at the Major Violators unit.” –Christopher Graveline, Detroit Police Department

White says a dozen police officers left the department over “Operation Clean Sweep,” either retiring or resigning, after their involvement in a series of fraudulent activity was exposed. Four sergeants, two corporals and six officers were cited for the misconduct. Allegations include overtime fraud, falsified search warrants and perjury.

DPD’s Director of Professional Standards Christopher Graveline, who led the investigation, says the department is changing policies as a result.

“The practice of releasing or flipping felony drug offenders has ceased at the Major Violators unit,” Graveline says. “While working overtime now, Major Violators members must do a body-worn camera introduction, state their purposes and also on- and off-duty times.”

Also, Graveline says supervisors will be present for future narcotics raids.

Based on court appearances, Graveline estimates one officer is responsible for $16,000 worth of fraud. Inadequate supervision and poor case filing are some contributing factors in the group’s ability to commit fraud, he says.

“All overtime is now managed digitally and so managers immediately have information on a daily basis of who is working overtime. All [Major Violator unit] surveillance notes are now digitally stored,” says Graveline. “Arrest warrant status of each offender are now digitally tracked as well. And organized crime now has three lieutenants assigned where they only had one before to increase supervision within organized crime and the Major Violators unit.”

White says the department is addressing those failings. “We’re confident that we’ve rooted out the problems and that we can move forward.”

Prosecutors Evaluate Charges Against Some Officers

Despite DPD’s findings against the 12 narcotics officers, it’s unclear what criminal charges will be filed against offenders. Prosecutors received four warrant packages from DPD, but sent back three of them for further investigation.

“Of the three warrant packages that were returned and the one that is being reviewed, there are a total of eight people,” says Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller.

While no charges are pending against four of the officers, police officials say they were closely connected to the scheme.

“Twelve officers either resigned or retired. Internal Affairs submitted criminal warrants on allegations that they can prove,” says DPD spokesperson Rudy Harper.

Harper says DPD will publish a report on “Operation Clean Sweep” in the coming weeks.

“They’re hoping to make it available by Thanksgiving.”

As Federal Investigators Widen Probe Over Towing, DPD Changes Policies

White outlined a four-part plan to retool DPD’s towing practices. The measures include introducing new management software to track vehicles internally and the creation of a public-facing smartphone app with information on tow costs and a way to report code violations. Both require City Council approval.

“I’m committed to making sure we have a transparent process,” White says. “I’m excited about this software, because this takes the human element out of it.”

White says the proposed changes should restore people’s faith in the police department by focusing on the root of the allegations. Federal prosecutors claim officers steered towing jobs to companies that paid them bribes. A lieutenant in DPD’s Integrity Unit and two other police officers have been indicted as part of a widening federal probe called “Operation Northern Hook.” Former City Councilmember Andre Spivey pleaded guilty to bribery charges stemming from the investigation.

“This whole reform package is informed by some of the misdeeds and the misconduct that we found.”  –Detroit Police Chief James White

White says the technology is about eliminating opportunity among officers. “This whole reform package is informed by some of the misdeeds and the misconduct that we found.”

Other proposals include introducing competitive bidding for towing contracts and the creation of a code enforcement unit to investigate the 16 companies DPD utilizes for towing.

“Standards are made clear on the front end. Everybody is given an opportunity to bid,” says Commander Michael Parish. “That process is overseen by a department other than the DPD by a department that specializes in the procurement. A selection committee must be formed. People involved in a selection committee must disclose any potential conflicts.”

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  • Eli Newman
    Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.