DETROIT (AP) - Officers in Detroit's formidable and at times notorious Gang Squad will be reassigned to regular patrols and other duties as part of a restructuring plan announced Wednesday aimed at preventing street crime and curbing the city's rising homicide rate.
Gang Squad and the police department's Tactical Mobile Unit — often used in blitzes on high-crime areas in the city — will be disbanded in early March, interim Police Chief Chester Logan said during a press briefing.
About 100 officers assigned to those units will be redeployed to the streets, traffic enforcement and the often-overtaxed work of homicide investigators.
"This makes sure resources are properly utilized and that every person who can be put on patrol" is out on the streets, Logan said.
Last year, Detroit recorded 386 criminal homicides — a 12 percent increase over 2011.
Overall crime in the city was down in 2012, but high-profile street robberies, carjackings and shootings outside gas stations increased the public's call for more police protection. The city, however, has been unable to hire more officers as it tries to climb out of mounds of debt and a budget deficit of more than $300 million.
Logan said the plan will have 80 percent of the city's police officers performing patrol duties, while 15 percent will focus on investigations. Only 5 percent will be assigned to administrative jobs, Logan said.
About 68 percent of the department's officers currently are on patrol duties.
Officials said elimination of the Gang Squad is not expected to hamper the department's gang investigations.
Those and "emerging gang issues" will be addressed at the precinct and district headquarters levels, Logan said in a release.
Unlike more organized criminal gangs such as the Gangster Disciples in Chicago or the various 18th Street gang factions in Los Angeles, many Detroit gangs are loosely assembled groups formed in and around neighborhoods.
They are involved in drug trafficking, robberies, burglaries and other street crime.
"A lot of the young guys in the street are not in gangs," said Carl Taylor, an author and sociology professor at Michigan State University. "They're gangsters. They're thuggin'. There are no barriers. Nothing is off limits. There is a total social breakdown."
Detroit's problems go much deeper than gangs, he said.
"It's one of manpower, morale and authority," said Taylor, adding that the city's money woes and lack of resources make it difficult to address what's going on in the neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, Mayor Dave Bing has been criticized by the police union for a 10 percent pay cut and the switch to 12-hour work days for some officers.
Placing more officers on street patrol and in investigations should increase the department's ability to close cases and better link gun-related crimes, Bing said Wednesday.
Shootings accounted for 333 of last year's criminal homicides — up from 302 in 2011 and 254 in 2010.
"If we can't hire more resources, we must redeploy," Bing said.
Attorney Jonathan Marko, who has represented clients in civil cases against Gang Squad members and the police department, called disbanding the unit a "good idea."
"From my job, I see where the Gang Squad does something wrong. Where they hurt people," Marko said. "It's familiar faces doing the same thing over and over again."
In one case, three Gang Squad members were sued by then 19-year-old DeJuan Hodges-Lamar after he was beaten while stopped in 2009 at a Detroit gas station. The confrontation was caught by the station's surveillance camera.
Then-Police Chief Ralph Godbee placed at least one officer on administrative restricted duty while the department investigated the incident.
The lawsuit was settled out of court last year, said Marko, who represented Hodges-Lamar.