By Charlie LeDuff
A cop and I sat watching, through his windshield, a stray hooker working a dark street corner in a dark corner of the city.
She wore cream-colored terrycloth shorts, a halter top and pumps, like she just walked out of the '80s. She walked with a limp.
"The going rate for a back seat blowjob is 10 to 20 bucks," the cop explained, "the same as it was 10 years ago."
If the economy had truly rebounded from its global collapse, then it certainly hadn't made its way to the streets.
"Inflation's a bitch, bro," the cop said with a laugh.
'It Ain't Worth It'
Suffice it to say, I have known the cop for years and he keeps me informed of things. He's raided dope houses, been shot at, worked undercover and is considered by his peers to be one of the top street cops in Detroit. What he says mirrors what dozens of other seasoned officers have told me.
"I look back at myself as a young guy just starting out on the job," he said. He wore dark clothes, whiskers and a sidearm. "You know what I would tell him? Don't do it, bro. It ain't worth it."
It was 10 years ago to the day that Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street mega-bank, collapsed and set off the worldwide financial calamity. Though the stock market is roaring at an all-time high and real estate prices have rebounded in some parts of the country (though in Detroit neighborhoods they've fallen 50 percent). working people like the cop continue to struggle, and struggle with the resentment.
In the span of that decade, the average middle-class American has lost 40 percent of his wealth, and the percentage of income generated by his job has fallen from 70 percent to 60 percent. His wages remain flat. The notion of working hard to get ahead is for suckers. No American city was more affected than Detroit, leading to the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history five years ago. And few in Detroit were more affected than the police officer.
The bankruptcy was sold to the public as a way to improve public safety. To make that work, first responders took pay cuts, benefit cuts and healthcare cuts. As a consequence, Detroit watched 20 percent of its police officers walk away.
More than four officers a week are resigning, according to the police union. As an example, a 19-year veteran who was making $57,000 a year in Detroit recently quit to join the Warren police department, north of 8 Mile Road. His starting pay there is $78,000.
To fill the gap, Detroit has hired 800 cops since 2014 -- their starting wage about $35,000. More than one-third of the police force has less than five years on the job -- a volatile shift in culture. "Everybody is getting out of Dodge," he said. "Everything they took from us. You just can't make it work."
Despite this, the mayor and chief of police insist crime is down, though the FBI, the prostitutes, the citizens and the cops themselves dispute this. Consider that 10 years ago, the Detroit police made 30,000 arrests. Last year, they made fewer than 10,000.
Somehow, less cops, making less money, making fewer arrests has lead to less crime.
The cop looked at my tape recorder nervously. He knew I was going to prepare an audio piece for the radio. "You promise to change my voice, bro? If they identify me, I'm fucking toast."
"I promise," I said.
And then he let it fly.
"Downtown looks great. But out here? We don't have enough officers. That's why you can shoot up a White Castle, murder three people and never be caught. We're not out there in numbers as a deterrent.
"Then, there's the odds of you making a mistake and it becoming fatal are high. The odds of your name being blasted across the news for excessive force are high. Why go out and be proactive? There aren't enough officers out here. Not enough who are properly trained. They're not here no more. It's done. Those officers are gone," he said.
"Is the city safe," I asked?
"Downtown, maybe. But I'll tell you this. The days of getting those guns off the street, they're gone bro. They're gone."
And with that, the hooker was also gone. Off in a dark sedan, earning a living 10 bucks at a time.