Detroit police not ‘trained’ to ticket graffiti vandals

Metropolitan Building, downtown Detroit (Steve Neavling/MCM)

There’s one problem with Detroit’s plan to crack down on the proliferation of graffiti: Most of its police officers aren’t trained to issue tickets to vandals.

A day after we revealed surveillance video of cops failing to take action against a graffiti vandal who was tagging an occupied building, the Detroit Police Department acknowledged most of its officers are not trained to enforce the city’s anti-blight ordinance. That task belongs to the department’s blight enforcement officers.

“The city has specific ordinance violations that are to be used” to enforce blight laws, Sgt. Michael Woody said Wednesday. “The officers that issue that specific blight ordinance need to be trained.”

(Steve Neavling/MCM)

What’s unclear is why police don’t enforce the state law that makes graffiti a crime – malicious destruction of property, which carries a $500 fine and up to 93 days in jail.

Scott Kraz, whose building on Gratiot was defaced in the surveillance video, said police are setting a bad example.

“They’ve declared that graffiti is acceptable in Detroit,” said Kraz, who has stopped counting the number of times he’s had to grind graffiti off of his occupied brick building over the past 15 years. “I thought vandalism was a crime.”

Exclusive: Meet some of Detroit’s most destructive graffiti vandals

To charge vandals with malicious destruction of property, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has to sign off. Prosecutor Kym Worthy has not made graffiti a priority because her cash-sapped office is inundated with violent crimes and countless felonies – not unlike the police department.

graffiti FTMD
(Steve Neavling/MCM)

“If the police bring us graffiti cases, we determine if a crime has been committed and what we can charge,” Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Prosecutor’s Office, said today.

When Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was the prosecutor in 2003, he unleashed a strict anti-graffiti campaign that jailed two out-of-town vandals for two months. He publicly called for police to crack down on graffiti. 

Under the state-imposed emergency manager, Duggan has no authority over the police department. That control belongs to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, whose staff recently began working with Police Chief James Craig on a possible anti-graffiti task force.

The proliferation of graffiti has never been more evident in Detroit, and many blame police apathy. Vandals are painting during the day and hitting churches, cars, schools, historic buildings, road signs, sidewalks, gas pumps, street lights and homes. 

Vandals often brag about “graffiti-friendly” police on social media, spreading news that vandalism is tolerated in Detroit.

The historic CPA building.
The historic CPA building.

Chief Craig said he’s getting tired of it.

“We will make every effort to ensure that those laws protecting the beauty of our communities are enforced with utmost integrity and sense of urgency,” Craig told us.

Related stories:

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.

  • Patrick Andrzejczyk

    Is Michigan a stand-your-ground state?

  • Marian Pyszko

    Place a bounty… problem solved.

  • Sizz

    They sure know how to BBQ a mean rack of ribs.

  • Gary

    Did Frank at the DNR end up getting fired?

    • Dust Buster

      no they are probably in the process of talking to him. supervisor are wringing their hands. people are talking about what they should do and what if he counter-sues. but rest assured he has been sternly spoken to but not in a way that could make him feel discriminated against, intimidated or uncomfortable.

  • Matt

    To tag abandoned buildings is one thing, but doing it on buildings that are in use is truly appalling…

  • bebow

    Always an excuse. No end to the mouth-running.

  • John T. Feret

    Only in Detroit… Next we’ll hear that so many murders go unsolved because only Homicide can arrest murderers. Catch a rape in progress? Sorry, our sex crimes squad (or whatever it’s called) is the only department trained to identify rape and make such an arrest. You’re being robbed? Sure I have on a uniform, but I’m not in Robbery. Let’s see if anybody from that division is on duty. Sorry, it’s after 5. Can you be robbed tomorrow after 9am? That’s when officers trained to deal with your specific issue will be on duty.

    • Shatner

      “sex crimes enforcement”

      • Guest

        Well, that’s just an oddly named department. They enforce sex crimes?

    • Dust Buster

      union mentality i guess. its not my job. i had to do that yesterday, its smithers turn. im sorry but we dont have the time or resources. im leaving in 40 minutes, i dont have time to do the paperwork.

  • Tim Burke

    total bull junk on the police departments behalf. Kenworthy says that the city is cash strapped and can’t do it. well if they would write those 500 tickets and fines they wouldn’t be cash strapped there is no logic in what they’re saying. writing a ticket is a very simple process. no different than writing a ticket for parking meter violation. you wanna put some money in the cities coffer take it the vandals and collect the fines

  • A.L. Cadillac

    This is an object lesson in realizing as long as DPD continues to behave like the Keystone Kops, Detroit will continue it’s ranking as the armpit of America. F**king idiots.

    If this was (anywhere else but Detroit) those pricks would be arrested instantly, hauled before a judge, fined thousands of dollars, put on probation, and cease being a threat.

  • Shatner

    Interesting….. detroit, one of the few cities in the USA where graffiti is an absolute epidemic and the police “claim” the are not trained to deal with it. I have never known of a cop not taking action because they were not trained to deal with it. In this case and in the moment I think they felt they had better things to do with their time. Some how NYC has stemmed the tide, perhaps a field trip is in order. Ultimately I think the agency caring about it is the issue, money, officers and time cannot solve wether or not they actually care to stop it.

    a second thought is why do agencies call them self “blight enforcement” or “DUI enforcement” it seems these brainiacs would notice that the title should be “anti-blight enforcement” or “DUI Abatement” or similar. A small detail but on it’s surface seems contradictory.