Police Commissioner Conrad Mallett resigns amid brewing towing scandal

Conrad Mallett Jr. (left) and Police Chief James Craig.

Conrad Mallett Jr., a longtime political ally of Mayor Mike Duggan, abruptly resigned from the Detroit Board of Police Commissioner just two days after Motor City Muckraker exposed a brewing towing scandal.

Mallett, who was 10 months into his four-year term, claims in his resignation letter that he was too busy as president and CEO of Sinai Grace Hospital to “discharge my BOPC duties with the fealty required.”

“I had hoped to be able to balance the demands of leading 2,000 employees committed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to keeping this community healthy and safe against the demands of attending weekly BOPC meetings,” Mallett wrote in the Oct. 18 letter, obtained by Motor City Muckraker on Sunday. “Too often hospital demands have prevented my attendance. Every elected public servant owes the people they represent t the very least attendance at regularly scheduled meetings.”

But not everyone is buying his explanation.

Police Commissioner Willie Burton

Police Commissioner Willie Burton, one of two board members to reject a last-minute, surprise vote on taking over up to half of the city’s towing operations last month, said the timing is suspect.

“It’s very strange. He could be running because something stinks, but I hope that’s not the case,” Burton told Motor City Muckraker. “I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

The Detroit Police Department spent $575,000 on six tow trucks without first getting approval from the Board of Police Commissioners, which is tasked with providing independent oversight over police operations. Mallet, the former campaign chairman of Duggan’s mayoral campaign in 2012 and 2013, took the unusual position of trying to remove police oversight over towing.

With less than a day’s notice on Sept. 20, the commission voted 7-2 to allow the police department to take over up to half of the towing operations, a move that puts the cash-strapped police department at risk of losing money.

“I fully support the resolution,” Mallett said.

There were no public hearings or time for commissioners to study the risks of taking over towing at a time when there aren’t enough police officers to protect the neighborhoods.

The hasty vote drew strong criticism from city council members, who accused the police department and commission of secretly plotting to take over towing operations from the private sector.

Mallett, a longtime political operative and heavyweight in the Michigan Democratic Party, was among the most outspoken supporters of taking over towing operations from the private sector. But previously, Mallett argued the police department should have nothing to do with towing and even advocated for stripping the commission’s oversight of towing, which would give Duggan’s administration more control without public hearings.

Mallett, a former Michigan Supreme Court justice, often clashed with other board members, dismissing arguments that the charter and a city ordinance required the police department to monitor towing.

“I do not believe that the Detroit Police Department should have a role in towing,” Mallett said in November 2017. “I believe firmly that the Department of Purchasing of the city of Detroit ought to take over that entire process.”

Police Commissioner Willie Bell

When Police Commissioner Willie Bell reminded Mallett of the city ordinance, Mallett responded, “The good news, me and Bell are going to have four years to fight this out.”

Not anymore.

A review of Mallett’s attendance also raises questions about the timing of his resignation. First appointed to one of the at-large commission seats by Duggan, Mallett ran for District 2 police commissioner in 2o17, the year he attended just half the meetings.

The police commission’s decision to take over some of the towing from the private sector in September was so hasty that the police department and Duggan’s administration violated city ordinances, botched towing jobs and failed to safeguard the city’s four makeshift impound lots.

Private towing companies are beginning to sue the city, and police are being taken off the streets to handle towing-related staffing.

Mallett, the police department and Duggan’s office declined to comment for this story, keeping the public in the dark about a decision that could haunt the city for years to come.

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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.