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Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Rise And Fall Of A Chief of Police

     It's not surprising that a crime-ridden city in long decline had a troubled and shrinking police department with a history of disgraced police administrators. Between 2000 and 2010 750,000 middle-class residents of Detroit moved out of the city to the suburbs. Today (2024) there are 400,000 people living in a city that in the 1950s had a population of 2 million.

     In 2012, 300 people were murdered in Detroit, a ten percent increase over the previous year. There were cities the size of Detroit that had under 20 murders a year. In 2012 Detroit's murderers were dumping their victims' corpses around several inner city neighborhoods. Because the police don't patrol these districts the bodies laid around for days, even weeks, rotting and stinking up the city. It was hard to believe there was a place like this in America. 

     Because of massive budget cuts the Detroit Police Department grew smaller while the crime problem got bigger. Police response time, even to major crime scenes, had significantly slowed. A man who had committed a murder called the Detroit Police Department and asked to be taken into custody. When no one showed the killer walked to a precinct station to turn himself in. In Detroit it was actually difficult to get yourself arrested.

     When Ralph Godbee jointed the Detroit Police Department in 1986 the city, while a shell of its former self, had not entered its final stage of decline and decomposition. The 19-year-old high school graduate, after just a few years on patrol, was assigned to the elite Executive Protection Unit. In 1995 when officer Godbee was only 26, the chief named him commander of the unit.

     Seven years after taking over the Executive Protection Unit Police Chief Jerry Oliver appointed Godbee commander of the 1st Precinct. In 2005 Godbee made Assistant Chief of Police, but three years later, was demoted. Mr. Godbee retired and started a private security consulting agency. Just a year into Godbee's retirement Chief Warren Evans brought him back into law enforcement by making him the Assistant Chief of Police.

     In July 2010 Detroit Mayor Dave Bing promoted Ralph Godbee to interim chief of police after Chief Warren Evans had to step down as a result of a sexual affair he had with a subordinate police officer. The following month, Mr. Godbee, after having taken up with the same female officer, Lieutenant Monique Patterson, filed for divorce. Notwithstanding Godbee's relationship with officer Patterson Mayor Bing promoted him to the permanent position of Chief of Police.

     The beginning of the end of Chief Godbee's law enforcement career came on October 2, 2012 when Mayor Dave Bing suspended him for thirty days. The assistant chief, Chester Logan, took over his duties. Like his predecessor, Ralph Godbee's problem involved having an affair with a subordinate departmental employee. In Godbee's case the woman was an internal affairs officer named Angelica Robinson.

     Angelica Robinson's attorney said this to a reporter with the Detroit Free Press: "She was trying to cut it off and he [Godbee] didn't like that. And apparently she was very depressed, and the concern was whether or not she was going to take her own life, and Godbee got wind of that. I guess he tried to intervene." Other Detroit media outlets reported that Angelic Robinson became upset after discovering that Godbee may have been attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego with another woman.

     Ralph Godbee, on October 4, 2012, announced his intention to step down as Detroit's chief of police. Retired Detroit police officer David Malhalab, a longtime Godbee critic, in speaking to a reporter with The Detroit News said: "Godbee was a stink bomb waiting to go off. I've said from day one that because of his past actions he shouldn't have been the face of the DPD. But [Mayor Bing] went ahead and appointed him anyway. Now he's reaping the consequences of his bad choices."

     In police work the higher up you go the less power you have. The cop on the street, armed with the discretionary power of arrest, exercises the real muscle. Moreover, the street officer is protected by civil service and the police union. A street cop can abuse his authority and behave in a manner unbecoming a police officer and still keep his job. The police chief, on the other hand, is wedged between the rank-and-file and the major and is vulnerable to politics and bad publicity. Chief Godbee knew this but risked his career and good name anyway. 
     Ralph Godbee's career, like the city of Detroit, started in glory and ended in ignominy. 

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