Just after midnight Saturday, firefighters responding to numerous emergencies were told the same thing: No ambulances were available.
Nor were police or arson investigators in even the most urgent emergencies – fire-bombings and life-threatening assaults.
The situation played out all weekend, leaving a city of more than 700,000 people without anything close to adequate protection.
The problem: The city has been rapidly losing police officers, paramedics and firefighters to retirement and failing to replace them. Even when staff is available, equipment problems and maintenance delays prevent them from doing their jobs.
Detroit, for example, is budgeted for 19 ambulances, but most are broken down. The city has been operating with as few as seven ambulances to cover 139 square miles.
Detroit’s new police chief, James Craig, said he’s placing more officers on the street, but clearly not enough.
Last week, Craig shocked many in the law enforcement community when he said he’s changing how the city measures police response time. Instead of starting the clock at the time of the 911 call, response times now won’t be measured until the crime was assigned to a police unit, a change bound to give the impression that Detroit is not as understaffed as it is.
Over the next few weeks, we will monitor the response times of paramedics and police, both of whom took 10% pay cuts, along with firefighters.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.