The Detroit Police Department announced new measures Tuesday aimed at clamping down on corruption in vehicle towing, an area at the center of an ongoing federal public corruption investigation.
Police Chief James E. White said the department wants to buy computer software that will divvy up jobs to tow companies, taking the “human element” out of the process and reducing the chances someone could steer work to a favored outlet.
He said the department also will launch an investigative unit staffed by civilians to ensure towing rules are followed. And they plan to create a software application to allow citizens to request their own tow with clear information on pricing.
“This has been on ongoing problem in the city, in the department,” White said Tuesday. “The community deserves a transparent process and some of the things that have happened are inexcusable. Those responsible are being held accountable.”
Last week, federal prosecutors charged a retired Detroit police officer with bribery, the fourth person to face charges in connection with an FBI investigation into City Hall, the police department and the towing industry.
The investigation’s first conviction came in late September when former Councilman Andre Spivey pleaded guilty to taking bribes totaling $35,900 in exchange for his help with the city’s towing regulations.
Officials say one of the most significant proposed reforms is the move to make towing companies bid on police contracts like any other city contractor, instead of operating through permits obtained from the Board of Police Commissioners. That new process would be run outside of the police department by the city procurement office.
A cost estimate for the reforms wasn’t immediately available Tuesday. The Detroit City Council would have to approve purchase of software.
Towing companies are supportive of reforms that make the system more efficient, including the new software so there is “fair and equal” distribution of jobs, said Julie Semma, vice president of the Detroit Towing Association.
Police tows have been divided among 16 private towing companies on a rotating basis in separate geographic areas.
Also Tuesday, White said that the department has concluded an investigation of DPD’s narcotics unit that was launched two years ago, called Operation Clean Sweep, under former Chief James Craig. As a part of that probe, eight officers could now face criminal charges, officials said.
The department submitted warrant requests related to perjury, overtime fraud and forgery to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We are confident we’ve rooted out the problems and we can move forward,” White said.
Contact Christine MacDonald: [email protected] or 313-418-2149.