Police to Muckraker: No more crime updates, Amber Alerts

Police_DetroitThe city of Detroit has a way of punishing reporters who don’t toe the line – and it usually comes at the expense of the public.

This week, the Detroit Police Department officially stopped responding to our questions and will no longer send us Amber Alerts, pictures of fugitives, crime summaries and other public records. Without that information, we can no longer provide our readers with urgent police issues, timely crime data and monthly crime maps.

Our crime? Repeatedly asking police for basic information. In the latest case, we wanted to know why police were allowing a brazen and reckless scrapping ring to operate out of the Packard Plant for cash at a nearby scrapyard. Concrete is plunging onto a road and nearly struck a pedestrian last week.

“Someone will die soon because police are ignoring this,” I wrote to the department’s public affairs department after failed attempts to get a response. “The public deserves an explanation. “

Sgt. Michael Woody, who is paid by tax dollars to speak to the media, responded angrily and accused us of having “disdain for our department” and denied scrappers were behind the Packard Plant collapses.

“I have read enough of your blogs to know you will write whatever you want, regardless of what we or anybody else may have to say, which negates the ideology of balanced and fair reporting,” Woody wrote.

He declined to elaborate, followed by “Please do not bother responding to this email.”

His response is nothing new in Detroit. It’s part of a pattern of punishing dogged reporters and rewarding sheepish journalists who act as mouthpieces for the government.

In the past six months, the police department also has ignored questions about a dog mauling, stop-and-frisk pullovers and excessive uses of power.

Transparency was supposed to improve under new Police Chief James Craig, who pledged to reform the troubled department. He’s paid $225,000 a year – more than any other city official.

Feel free to voice your disappointment with the administration’s new public affairs department by emailing pubinfo@detroitmi.gov and Chiefofpolice@dpdhq.ci.detroit.mi.us. You also may call the department at 313-596-1450.

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.