Time Running Out for Free Police Protection in Detroit

The days of Detroit police officers patrolling every block party, street parade, mega festival, sporting event and music concert for free may soon be over.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's plan to charge organizations for police presence at special events may squeeze already cash-strapped groups.

For some that traditionally host free events -- such as the International Jazz Fest and Comerica TasteFest -- it may mean charging admission. For others, it may mean scaling back their fairs and parades or -- in worse-case scenarios -- closure.

"If we had to pay for police, it would definitely affect what we could do for the community," said Damon Terrell, executive director of Mack Alive, a grassroots organization on the city's east side that hosts an annual parade along Mack Avenue. "I don't like that idea."

When Detroit starts charging to staff events with its officers, it won't be alone.

In Auburn Hills, the Police Department has been reimbursed by the owners of the Palace of Auburn Hills since it opened. The Palace provides the department with a schedule of events and how many officers it needs for each event. Those hours are billed to the Palace.

The Oakland County Sheriff's Office also bills venues such as Meadow Brook Theatre, DTE Energy Music Theatre, the Renaissance Festival and the Silverdome for work it does for traffic and security.

Some Detroit events will be exempt, though. The International Freedom Festival Fireworks and America's Thanksgiving Parade, which draw people from throughout the region, will not have to pay.

"The mayor said we are a large-scale historic community event," said Debbie Dingell, chairwoman of the Parade Company, which hosts the annual fireworks and parade. "I have to say the mayor went out of his way to be responsive to us. He's been very thoughtful in this process."

In a police reorganization plan announced Monday, Kilpatrick said the city will begin charging for special events within the next 30 to 60 days. His administration is working on the specifics of the plan to determine what kind of venues and events would be charged and how much to charge them for extra police presence.

"You will pay," Kilpatrick said Monday, referring to the groups putting on those events. He said free police escorts for funerals would end, too.

He and administration officials said Detroit is one of the few cities in the country that does not charge for added police presence at special and sporting events.

But the city's budget constraints make that luxury no longer possible.

Al Fields, the city's acting chief operating officer, said the city wants to be evenhanded in its approach, so that any event, including a block party, that requires additional police could be charged.

Chief Ella Bully-Cummings said Monday that the administration was working on a plan that would allow police officers to work off-duty, in uniform, using department equipment, in the city. They would be able to work for extra money at sporting events or other venues, such as bars or restaurants.

"What it does is increase our visibility out there," she said. Officers would not be able to work in strip clubs or other businesses that the Police Department regulates.

A spokesman for Ilitch Holdings Inc., which owns the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings and sponsors concert events in the city, said in a statement the company has not seen the chief's plan.

"Our organizations currently provide the majority of the security details required during events at our venues," said John Hahn, the company's senior director of communications.

The off-duty plan is similar to one first pitched about four years ago by Councilwoman Sharon McPhail, who introduced a resolution in the City Council to allow officers to moonlight while off-duty in uniform.

"No big city does this anymore, provide free police for events," she said.

(c)Associated Press