Detroit police not ‘trained’ to ticket graffiti vandals

Metropolitan
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.”

Graffiti
(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.

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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.