Police: Packard Plant isn’t our problem, despite scrapping

Packard collapse_6033Thieves with backhoes, high-powered saws and welding equipment are brazenly tearing apart the abandoned Packard Plant in the middle of the day for steel beams, copper piping and other metal.

But Detroit police maintain that has nothing to do with the buildings collapsing onto the street, despite our recent photos showing otherwise.

On Saturday, scrappers caused a partial collapse that sent large chunks of concrete plunging five stories onto the road, nearly striking a man walking to the store. Instead of stopping the scrappers, who returned to finish the job, the city cordoned off Concord Street indefinitely because the two-block-long building is raining down concrete.

Naturally, I wanted to know why police were ignoring a reckless, wide-open scrapping operation that was endangering the lives of residents and motorists. But police wouldn’t respond, although I had two years’ worth of photos and license plates of the scrappers and knew which scrapyard was accepting the stolen metal.

After more failed attempts to reach the department, Detroit Police Chief James Craig’s administration finally responded Wednesday and insisted the collapses are the result of “structural engineering.”

“I am sorry that you feel structuring engineering is a law enforcement issue, somebody should advise you differently,” Sgt. Michael Woody wrote to me in an e-mail. “Please do yourself and your readers a favor and do some research as it relates to structural engineering.”

So I did. The Packard Plant is made of reinforced concrete, making it incredibly sturdy and nearly fire-proof. In fact, the Albert Kahn-designed Packard is the first industrial building in Detroit to feature reinforced concrete.

It’s also why scrappers need heavy duty tools to chip away at 3 million square feet of reinforced concrete.

Neighbors said they’ve stopped calling the police on scrappers because no one responds. But they worry about asbestos and other toxins raining down on their homes while the scrappers tear apart the toxic buildings.

“There’s nothing the city will do about it. Nothing,” Georgia Haley, 73, told me. “God only knows what we’re breathing. Dust comes up from that place all the time.”

The city has virtually wiped its hands of the Packard since the mammoth plant went mostly abandoned during the industrial decline of the 1950s.

Here are photos of the scrappers and the Packard damage.

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Packard Scrapping

Packard scrapping

Other stories about the Packard Plant:

Steve Neavling

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.