NewsMetro Detroit NewsThe 7 Investigators

Actions

Assaults at Detroit's Rosa Parks Transit Center prompt DPD to take over policing

Assault at Rosa Parks transit center
Posted at 1:51 PM, Jun 18, 2024

DETROIT (WXYZ) — It’s hard to find a Detroiter who’s a bigger advocate of public transit in the city than Michael Cunningham.

On a recent day this month, our cameras found him handing out free bus tickets here at the Rosa Parks Transit Center Downtown, something he’s done for years.

But for as big a booster as Cunningham is, he’d be the first to tell you that the city has a long way to go to make riders feel safe when they head to the bus stop.

“I don’t feel comfortable when I ride the buses, I don’t,” he said. “Because I’m susceptible to be victimized.”

Cunningham is disabled and says he’s been attacked twice at the downtown transit center in just the last two years.

The first attack happened, he says, after he saw a man spit on a woman while she was waiting for a bus. Cunningham says he spoke up.

“He grabbed my cane and cracked me upside my head, and I had stitches,” he said. “I felt disheartened. I try to respect the police, I love the police. But when I need them, it felt like they just weren’t there.”

While assaults at the transit center aren’t daily or even weekly occurrences, they aren’t that rare either.

Since last year, more than 30 assaults were reported at the busy transit center that sits at the corner of Grand River and Cass.

Police reports tell the story. A man “seen shoving an elderly female to the ground leaving her bleeding,” another man found stabbed in his chest, razor blades and switch blade knives pulled on passengers, an unsheltered man attacked by 4 others while he lay on a bench and countless reports of punches and fights.

Chief Ricky Brown is head of the Detroit Transit Police, the small agency that’s been patrolling the city’s buses, bus stations, QLine and People Mover.

“Because our department is smaller, we couldn’t compete financially with some of the larger agencies,” Chief Brown said.

At its peak, Brown said the department had 45 officers. But today, it’s less than half that, with only 20.

And of those, only 10 are licensed by the state as police officers, meaning half the department doesn’t have full police powers. They can’t write tickets or crash reports and can only make arrests in limited circumstances.

“A lot of Detroiters would be surprised to learn that half of your force didn’t have full police powers,” said Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“I wouldn’t term it like that,” Brown said. “They had full arrest powers.”

“Depending on where they were,” Jones pointed out.

“Depending on where they were,” Brown replied.

As staffing levels plummeted, the Detroit Transit Police were forced to quit manning the midnight shift at the Parks Transit Center.

Then in March, just after 3:00 AM, surveillance cameras caught a violent attack: a man was brutally punched by another passenger before falling to the ground. His attacker continued to throw punches as the man lay unconscious.

VIDEO: Warning: graphic video. A man is attacked by another passenger at the transit center

FULL SURVEILLANCE: Man brutally attacked by another passenger at transit center

Due to understaffing, there were not transit officers assigned to the bus station that night.

“That was extremely violent,” said DPD Deputy Chief Arnold Williams. “It was very violent. It was what we call an aggravated assault.”

It was DPD officers who responded to the assault that night, ultimately arresting the man responsible. Not long after that, DPD took over the midnight shifts at the transit center that had previously gone unmanned.

The March attack only fueled growing calls for DPD to take over patrols full-time and, not long after, the city announced it would, with Detroit police being responsible for the city’s two transit centers, all DDOT buses and the QLine beginning July 1.

The People Mover will remain the responsibility of the Detroit Transit Police.

Deputy Chief Williams doesn’t fault transit officers for attacks on passengers, but says DPD will be better staffed to keep passengers and bus drivers safe.

“We really look to reducing the number of assaults and aggravated assaults…that have been happening at the bus routes, that have been happening at the transit centers,” Williams said.

Michael Cunningham, for one, applauds the changes coming to the transit center, and says we’ll know soon enough if they make a difference.

“Anything is better than what we have,” Cunningham said. “People just victimize each other. And I just hope, and we’ve got to see if DPD will make a big difference.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.