Legend

Updated: Dec 13, 2020



















Reviewing A Decade of Tactical Service

A Statistical Snapshot of the Detroit Police Tactical Mobile Unit for the Years 1965-1975




INTRODUCTION



I’m a former member of the Detroit Police Department Tactical Mobile Unit (TMU). Ask any officer who ever worked there and they will beam with pride, ready to tell stories of their time in the Unit. There’s a bond amongst us, no matter how long or short our assignment there. And if an outsider listened to our stories, they just might walk away in awe or in disbelief.


So much of what we know about the Unit’s actual contribution to crime fighting is anecdotal, so I decided to see if I could find metrics that captured the Unit’s output. I found what I was looking for in the Department’s Annual Reports.


Every year since the official beginning of the Detroit Police Department in 1865, there has been a requirement for the Commissioner of Police to deliver an annual report to the Board of Police Commissioners. The full Title of the Annual Report is Detroit Police Department [year] Annual Report. For the last century, the key performance metrics of the Department appear on the page captioned Work Accomplished and Miles Traveled by Officers Working on Motor Vehicles. Many Units had their own separate narrative included in a special section of the Annual Report, either as the only mention of their contribution, or as a supplement to the “Work Accomplished” page.


The data captured in my analysis comes from the individual Annual Reports for the years 1965-1975. I have isolated those years because 1965 represents the year of TMU’s inception, while the last five of those years included my service in that Unit. During my years, there was a palpable amount of Esprit De Corps. The bosses backed your every effort, and were quick to recognize your good work by willingly writing up recommendations for commendations and citations. There was a sense of camaraderie that rose from our shared daily risk, from friendly work competition among the crews, and from the belief that we were uniquely contributing to a worthy cause.


In late 2010, I attended a Department of Homeland Security counter-terrorism seminar attended by Homeland Security, the FBI, Michigan State Police Intelligence officers, and security directors from around Southeast Michigan. I sat at a table where obviously no one knew the other. As we went around the table introducing ourselves, we briefly summarized our backgrounds and why we were attending the conference. I just happened to be a guest speaker. One of the Homeland Security agents mentioned that he had a DPD background and had worked at TSS. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I mentioned my DPD background and specifically my TMU background. At the mention of TMU, the Homeland Security officer asked if I meant TMU or TMS or TSS and when I had served there. Upon telling him “all the above” and my years, he interrupted again and told the others at the table, “Ladies and gentlemen you are sitting in the presence of a F***ing Legend!” I never figured myself as the stuff legends are made of, and said so. To which he replied, officers still told tales about TMU from the sixties and seventies. Maybe so. But I had to find out if we were indeed legends in time, or legends in our own minds. Following is the data to support your conclusion, whatever it is.



The Tactical Mobile Unit

In his 1965 Annual Report to the Board of Police Commissioners and the Detroit Common Council, Detroit Police Commissioner Ray Girardin opened by saying, “The year 1965 marked the Detroit Police Department centennial year.”


Nineteen Sixty-five also marked the birth of the Tactical Mobile Unit. In characterizing the new Unit on the first page of his report, Girardin described its mission as, “… assigned to various areas of the city to provide a highly visible control force to effect a deterrent to crime. The TMU also may be deployed when an immediate control force is required to take proper action at the scene of a potentially dangerous situation.”


Although the media had been praising TMU in anecdotal stories for months, Girardin’s two simple sentences formally acknowledged, in a public report, the existence of an unprecedented crime-fighting unit. This analysis of the statistics, taken from the subsequent Annual Reports of the Detroit Police Department, demonstrates the contributions of TMU and its direct impact on crime. The numbers grow remarkably in some years and diminish inexplicably in others.


During my five years, the designation of the Unit changed from Tactical Mobile Unit (TMU), to Tactical Mobile Section (TMS) to Tactical Services Section (TSS). And in a later era where military operations and television guided much thinking about the image of law enforcement, “Special Response and Tactical Response” units became the norm.


In 2018, Detroit Police Chief James Craig restored the name of the Unit, renaming the Department’s (Tactical) Special Response Unit to the Tactical Services Section, and with a tip of his hat to history, restored the shoulder-patch insignia of the Unit. During the re-dedication ceremony, at which former members of the original Unit were invited to attend, the Chief spontaneously remarked to the newly named assemblage, "It is unlikely any Unit will ever match their statistics, but we hope you will maintain its proud tradition."


By the end of nineteen sixty-five, the Tactical Mobile Unit had been in existence only six months. In the Annual Report, its statistics are reflective of that short period and a of smaller cadre of officers, especially when considered side-by-side with the output of the rest of the Department. Nevertheless, TMU’s contribution grew annually through the years to a point of noteworthy significance. I have structured this analysis to also include the Unit’s own narrative description, where available, as well as its metrics as included in the Annual Report.


In 1965, TMU’s contribution was only briefly noted in its own narrative section. Its summary report begins...


“The Tactical Mobile Unit was organized to be a highly trained and thoroughly experienced police force. This unit was activated June 18, 1965. It is a mobile crime unit that can be moved anywhere in the city depending on the crime situation. This unit is trained and carries the necessary equipment and weapons to quell any large civil disturbance. This training is continued once a week so that all officers will automatically know what to do when they are called to serious disturbances. HT series walkie-talkies are also provided as part of their equipment, now allowing the officer to be out of the car and away from his partner and still be in immediate contact with him and with others of that command. Also included in their equipment are electronic sirens and public address systems.”


Detroit Police Department Annual Report


1965

TMU’s brief narrative summary of its output stated, “Since July 1, 1965, members of this bureau have performed the following police services


Persons arrested on felony charges ………………….1,135

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges………....1,263

Value of property recovered.................................$385,567


Their report failed to mention the numerous times it had been called upon, in its first year, to successfully respond to disorderly or riotous crowds.


Despite the humble report of their first six months, the Unit was immediately successful. The Detroit News reported on August 18, 1965 “Mayor [Jerome Cavanaugh] Seeks to Expand Mobile Unit.”


On that day, Cavanaugh requested five more Tactical Mobile Unit cars to supplement the eleven cars of the Unit. The article further explained that TMU’s baptism occurred the day after it was placed on the street on July 1st, when it quelled a disturbance on Belle Isle.


The News article went on to report, “In a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Girardin, Cavanaugh praised the 60-man unit, saying: It has demonstrated that something can be done about crime through the use of the most modern equipment and special training for police personnel.


“The record this unit has made in just one month’s operations in meeting a wide variety of situations and handling them with the highest degree of professional competence, make it obvious we should expand the number of vehicles and personnel for TMU.


The request was taken seriously enough that even though it was the middle of the third quarter of the year, the City’s Controller’s Office and the Purchasing Department were already studying the means of getting five new cars into the current year budget! By year's end, the Unit boasted 99 total officers.



1966

For the reporting year 1966, Commissioner Ray Girardin’s message to the Detroit Common Council noted that many memorable events had occurred that year from a police perspective, and there was not enough room in his report to cite them all. However, he went on to say there were some highlights that could not go unheralded. He then opened his annual report with the following, “For example, the Tactical Mobile Unit has been doubled in size, marking a great improvement in police services and community protection.”


To further understand the contribution of TMU to its mission of crime fighting, it is important to understand their respective strength, relative to the total uniformed workforce. At the time of the 1966 Annual Report, at full strength, TMU averaged approximately 140 members, including supervisors and administrators. The Department’s compliment of uniformed officers during those years (less TMU officers) was approximately 4,300, not counting top brass and administrators. TMU represented only 3.2% of the total manpower (there were no women in uniform on the streets during these years) of the precincts, cruisers, boosters, squads, bureaus, sections and special details charged with detecting, deterring and stopping crime.


Here is the statistical contribution of the Unit in 1966, its first full year of expanded operation, even while being assigned to 106 crowd-control details. (Author’s note: It is difficult to comprehend the full power and capability that forty well-trained, resolute officers and their supervisors could project over a crowd of hundreds of people.)


Persons arrested on felony charges ………………….3,121

(TMU’s 140 person output represented 11% of all felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges………....2,964

(This represented 7% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Juveniles arrested for various crimes…………………1,133

Persons investigated………………………………...139,585

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…63,172

Weapons confiscated……………...………………………597

Value of property recovered……………………..$1,448,109

Ordinances written ……………………………………..4,146

(TMU had a reputation for writing many tickets, however this number represents a smaller annual output per capita officer than any unit in the City by comparison.)



1967

The 1967 Detroit Police Annual Report to the Common Council offered nothing unique relative to the Tactical Mobile Unit. Although the number of people and cars TMU “investigated” fell off, the felony arrest ratio increased per investigative stop. TMU’s full mobilization and non-stop deployment into the heart of the ’67 riots was not mentioned.


Girardin referred to the riots as ”the unfortunate events of the summer months”. But he did praise the outstanding work of the Department, which produced over six thousand five hundred arrests during those weeks, with a nearly 75% prosecution ratio. Additionally, over seven hundred juveniles were taken into custody. The headcount at TMU dropped to 132 in 1967, still representing only 3% of the officers on the street.


In 1967 there was a discrepancy between the output claimed in the narrative the Unit submitted to the writers of the Annual Report, and the statistical data actually included in the same report. See my comments below.


Persons arrested on felony charges ………………….4,825 (TMU Report = 3,642)

(TMU’s output alone represented approximately 10% of all felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges………....2,403 (TMU report = 1823)

(This represented 5% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Juveniles arrested for various crimes…………………853

Persons investigated………………………………... 10,408 (TMU Report 110,508)

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…56,505

Weapons confiscated……….Information was not provided

Value of property recovered……………………..$1,536,163 (TMU reported $1,466,928)

Ordinances written ……………………………………..3408



1968

In the 1968 Annual Report, submitted by the next police chief, Johannes Spreen, and without the benefit of an explanation in a TMU narrative summary, the Unit’s output seemed to fall off. The headcount returned to 141, yet all metrics were down across the board, except in property recovered.


Persons arrested on felony charges ………………….3,425

(TMU’s output nevertheless represented approximately 7% of all felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges………....1,508

(This represented 3% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Persons investigated………………………………... 98,733

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…49,200

Value of property recovered……………………..$1,670,699

Ordinances written ……………………………………..2,555



1969

Despite the best efforts of TMU and the rest of the Police Department, the next Commissioner of Police, Patrick Murphy, in his 1969 Annual Report noted an increase in the City’s crime rate of “… a staggering 10.2%.”


These were not merely property or victimless crimes that increased. The higher numbers reflected a 13.1% increase in homicides, a 26.4% increase in robberies, a 7.1% increase in assaults, an 8.8% increase in burglaries and a 15.4% increase in larcenies! Sadly, he also had to report that four officers had been killed in the line of duty during that year. These numbers were reflective, as he put it, “… of the ever-present social ills and problems that exist in our community.” It was the year I graduated from the police academy, class of ‘69A, on January 17th.


For the year, TMU's total headcount again dropped to 137 members, representing 2.8% of the sworn officers. TMU’s contribution in the “Work Accomplished and Miles Traveled by Officers Working on Motor Vehicles” section of the Annual Report was printed as follows:


Persons arrested on felony charges ………………….3,174

(At less than three percent of the officers, TMU’s output still represented approximately 6% of all felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges………....2,009

(This represented 3% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Persons investigated……………………………….....96,111

Automobiles investigated………………………….46,043

Value of property recovered……………………..$1,244,480

Ordinances written ……………………………………..5,116



1970

As bad as the increase in crime was in 1969, the next Police Commissioner, John F. Nichols, had to report another increase in overall crime in the City of Detroit, up an additional 12.7%, all occurring in the midst of a major Departmental re-organization. TMU’s headcount was restored to 148 (2.8% of the force) and its contribution increased significantly, in response.


Persons arrested on felony charges …………………..4,071 (28% increase)

(TMU’s output represented approximately 6.4% of all felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges……….....2,750 (37% increase)

(This represented 3% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Persons investigated………………………………... 105,072 (6% increase)

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…..46,383 (less than 1% increase)

Value of property recovered………………….…..$1,554,823 (25% increase)

Ordinances written ……………………………………..11,383 (120% increase)



1971

John F Nichols’ 1971 report, started with an upbeat note. Crime was down 3.6% for the first time in nearly six years. A major reorganization of the department had taken place, as did the development of many community outreach efforts. Robberies decreased by almost 10%, representing the first drop in robberies in nearly a decade. He gave much of the credit for this decline to his newly created STRESS decoy unit. That unit made nearly 2,500 arrests during its first ten months. Without much fanfare, TMU continued its steady contribution to crime fighting, with solid increases in its output. Probationary patrolmen, just graduated from the academy, were assigned to TMU for their first month on the job. Forty-one Probationary Officers supplemented a headcount of 139 TMU officers (4.3% of the sworn Department.)


Persons arrested on felony charges …………………..5,267 (29% increase)

(TMU’s output represented approximately 8% of all felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges……….....3,760 (36.7% increase)

(This represented 7.7% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Persons investigated………………………………... 119,563 (13.8% increase)

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…..62,947 (37% increase)

Value of property recovered………………….…..$1,583,610 (1.2% increase)

Ordinances written ……………………………………..17,749 (56% increase)



1972

The 107th Annual report, released in 1972, looked like a high school yearbook, loaded with pictures and graphs and included a four-page summary report by Commissioner Nichols. But Nichols could boast another year of record-breaking crime reduction, with total crime reduced by 14.7%, and a decrease in major (Part I) crimes by 17%. It was the largest crime reduction in thirty years! In the meanwhile he continued to reorganize the department, its accountabilities and reporting structure, including laying the groundwork for the Detroit Police 911 calling system. He also established the Canine Unit (which he housed in the Tactical Mobile Unit), the Office of Personnel Affairs and the Residency Unit. Nichols noted that three more officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Projecting his 1973 organizational chart, Assistant Superintendent Tony Bertoni continued to run the Tactical Mobile Unit through Gordon Smith.


Despite his outstanding accomplishments, 1972 would be Nichols’ last summary report. Nichols, despite having the full support of his police officers, fought a losing battle for the office of mayor against Coleman Young, who ran on the promise to "tame" the Detroit Police Department, TMU and the STRESS unit, which he portrayed as unresponsive to the people of Detroit.


While TMU’s headcount remained virtually the same, its stats fell off in 1972, but their percent of work held up, compared with the rest of the Department.


Persons arrested on felony charges …………………..4,836 (8% decrease)

(TMU’s output represented approximately 8.6% of all felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges……….....4,415 (17.4% increase)

(This represented 8.1% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Persons investigated………………………………... 78,194 (34.6% decrease)

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…..62,947 (37% increase)

Value of property recovered………………….…..$1,451,636 (8.3% decrease)

Ordinances written ……………………………………..20,942 (18% increase)



1973

The fourth head of the Department in eight years, Phillip Tannian, had replaced John Nichols as Commissioner of Police and noted the “first steps” in another "major" reorganization of the Department. One of his initial moves was to reorganize the Bureaus that housed TMU and STRESS. Gordon Smith was transferred to Youth Services, while Tony Bertoni was promoted to Superintendent of Police Operations, George Jackson was made Commander of Special Operations, and TMU became the Tactical Mobile Section in the Annual Report.


Interestingly, under Tannian and as promised by Coleman Young, TMU also lost its standing and became invisible in the 108th Annual “Work Accomplished and Miles Traveled” section of the Annual Report, losing its unique column heading. They were relegated to a mere mention in the narrative section of the report. Despite the minimizing of TMU's visibility and the changing of its name to TMS, then TSS, the department added 23 permanent members to the Unit's rolls. Along with the 36 Probationary Offices, the Unit put 195 officers in the Blue and White Double Bubble cars that year.


Notwithstanding the intentional slight and the minimizing of the Unit's value and visibility, the Unit continued with outstanding, if officially unrecognized statistics.


Persons arrested on felony charges …………………..4,264

(TMU was only 4% of the Force, but its output represented approximately 10% of all the felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges……….....5,166

(This represented 11% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Persons investigated………………………………... 83,804 (7% increase)

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…..67,946 (7.9% increase)

Value of property recovered………………….…..$2,076,188 (43% increase)

Ordinances written ……………………………………..25,568 (22% increase)



1974

In a faux pas that would be considered unconscionable today, Tannian addressed his multi-paged, pictorial review of the Department to the Board of Police Commissioners as “Gentlemen …” The problem being that there were two women on the Board!


Seven officers died in the line of duty that year, five of them being fatally shot, and two dying in a police helicopter crash with a private aircraft. Of note is the fact that the apparently re-named Tactical Mobile Section received its unique column heading again in the 109th Annual Report as TMS, and Gilbert Truax became the head of the Unit. Its headcount was not reported in 1974 or 1975.


The constant minimizing of the Unit, as promised by Coleman Young, made it seem as if officers were changing their bosses and their collar insignia every two years. Perhaps reflective of the repeated blows to the Unit’s morale, its output began to fall appreciably in 1974.


Persons arrested on felony charges …………………..3,133 (26% decrease)

(TMU’s reduced output still represented approximately 7% of all the felony arrests in the City)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges……….....4,172 (19% decrease)

(This impressively represented 8.5% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Persons investigated……………………………….......71,329 (14.9% decrease)

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…..51,200 (24.6% decrease)

Value of property recovered………………….…..$1,866,456 (10% decrease)

Ordinances written ……………………………………..18,452 (28% decrease)



1975

Someone must have straightened Tannian out, because his 1975 Annual Report to the Board of Police Commissioners was gender neutral, addressing them as “Commissioners.” Compared with his fifteen-page previous letter to them, this one was only a half-page short. He managed to get in his pictorial review later in the Annual Report.


In Tannian’s report, he boasted that the mid-July, three-day “city-wide civil disturbance”, known as the Livernois-Fenkel Riot, was managed with a heavy command presence to ensure there was no “excessive use of force”. The incident was tamed, without a shot being fired, at a cost of over $1.3 million in extra police expense. Fifty-three people were arrested and ten injuries were reported, including one each to a firefighter and a police officer. Although TMU officers are in photographs at the scenes, their contribution is not referenced.


Compounded by the cost of the riot, the City endured an economic crisis in 1975. Officers and command staff agreed to work or take fourteen vacation days without pay to forestall layoffs. The unintended consequences of the poor planning on the part of the City was that as officers took off their payless vacation days, the City was left short-staffed with fewer officers on the street.


The Tactical Services Section's sixth annual picnic for handicapped youngsters was mentioned in a photo caption in the Annual Report.


In another re-organization of the Department, the Special Operations Section and thus Tactical Services Section fell under Reginald Turner, who appointed Harold Johnson as a Lieutenant there. Former (and many original) lieutenants and sergeants were reassigned or transferred out, and the Unit’s era of “great street bosses” came to an end. The Annual Report’s Work Accomplished heading was renamed (TSS) “Tactical Services Section”, to correct the error in the previous year’s report when it was labeled TMS. Officer Joe L. Tucker of TSS received the Detroit News Medal for Valor!


One explanation for the lower output may be found in a separate 1975 TSS memorandum, authored by Lieutenant Harold Johnson.


“During 1975 the Section responded to 76 crowd control situations. These were the result of demonstrations of various groups, labor, political, major fires, school incidents and a great number of security details as it pertains to V.I.P. and dignity protection.


“During October 31, 1975 through November 30, 1975 the Tactical Services Section was alerted to a community problem in the area of John R and Watson, etc. The problem consisted of narcotic trade and traffic, loitering, and disorderly persons that prevented the citizens from walking the streets safely without fear of being assaulted by the criminal element.


“It was during this time that a concerted effort by the Tactical Services Section was instituted which was appropriately called “Operation Disperse”. During the above period a total of 198 arrests were made and sixty-one ordinance violation tickets were issued. The man hours spent on this detail was 1,244 however, it was well worth the effort as the community again was able to leave their homes and walk the streets without being bothered by undesirables.


“During the year, the Tactical Services section spent a total of 58,638 man hours on various details and assignments.


“The Tactical Services Section maintains the elite and highly successful Canine Unit of the Detroit Police Department. During the past year numerous tracks were made in regard of homicides, robberies, rapes, missings, narcotic searches, building searches for suspects and explosives including bus and air terminals. Many arrests and recoveries have been made through the expertise of the handlers and their Canines.”


Note: Johnson offered to provide exact work output figures for the unit, if necessary. His numbers did not show up in the Annual Summary or in the statistical data as separate entries.


The Annual Report did mention the work of the Canine Unit of the Tactical Services Section, reporting that it tracked suspects in 20 homicides, 49 armed robberies, 59 rapes, and conducted searches of 93 buildings looking for explosives in 35 instances. The Fire Department Arson Squad honored a member of the Canine Unit, badge K-5, who tracked four suspects from a burning house to a location a block away where they had siphoned gas from two cars, to an open garage where the can was found, and finally to the house where they lived. “King” became the first animal in the history of the Fire Department to earn a citation.


Perhaps due to unpopular Command changes at the top that filtered their way into the organization, or perhaps due to a softening of the terms of its mission, the Unit’s contribution as a part of the whole fabric of the department was less than ever. The Women’s Section nearly performed as well on arrests! Tactical Services Section output was the worst since its inception.


Persons arrested on felony charges …………………..1,695 (49% decrease)

(TMU’s reduced output represented only 4% of all the felony arrests in the City, with the Women’s Section arresting 1,283)

Persons arrested on misdemeanor charges……….....1,537 (36.8% decrease)

(This represented only 4% of all misdemeanor arrests in the City)

Persons investigated……………………………….......35,333 (50% decrease)

Automobiles investigated…………………………..…..19,093 (63% decrease)

Value of property recovered………………….…..$1,511,661 (19% decrease)

Ordinances written ……………………………………..4,596 (75% decrease)



Personal Note

In 1975, I accepted an invitation to join the Wayne County Organized Crime Task Force, remaining there through my promotion to Sergeant, and until I resigned from the Department in 1979. I think it would have broken my heart to witness the erosion of the Unit any further. The impact on the Esprit De Corps must have been palpable.


Regardless, whenever I think about the TMU years, I recall them and my fellow officers with fondness and with pride. We all seem to agree that the Unit was the best uniform assignment a working, street-officer could have.



Note: All the data in this document was obtained from original versions of the Annual Reports, as compiled by the Records Bureau, and as preserved and provided to me, for my review, by the Detroit Police Museum.


A special thank you to Jeff Lemaux, who manages the Detroit Police Museum, for gathering the Annual Reports for my review, and for preserving the history of the Department. Through his effort, and that of Brandon Malachi Cole, and others like them, they have collected and worked to save what would have otherwise been destroyed through carelessness or administrative intent. Harold Johnson’s report was a separate document and not included in an Annual Report. The historic information on the Livernois-Fenkel riots was obtained online, whereas the Commissioner’s comments and the statistics were in the Annual Report.


Thank you to Chief James Craig for providing space at Detroit Police Headquarters to house these treasures of history.


Special thanks to 1970s era TMU officers Rick Gordon (8-16) and Roy Cavan (8-9) for taking the time to proofread this for me and for providing valuable comments and feedback. Any typos, errors or omissions are oversights of mine, not theirs.


Mike Saad, TMU TMS TSS (8-3)


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