Saginaw undercover: 5 agencies flood streets

City is high on FBI’s list of most violent cities per capita

By Andy Hoag

SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) — The city of Saginaw is facing its deadliest year in the past two decades.

The wave of violence has plagued the city not just this year — 29 homicides have occurred, including 25 ruled criminal — but for the past decade, placing Saginaw high on the FBI’s list of most violent cities, per capita, in the country.

The response: The Saginaw County Major Crimes Unit, with resources from several police agencies and which aims to swiftly respond to violent crime and boost arrests.

And with the added resources of the Major Crimes Unit, Saginaw police have solved a number of the criminal homicides that have occurred since the beginning of August after solving one in the first eight months of the year.

“We’re doing everything possible and using every resource, in the city and outside of the city,” Saginaw Police Detective Sgt. Joseph Dutoi said. “This problem isn’t just a city problem, it’s a countywide problem. That’s why you’re seeing a combination of forces.”

While the Major Crimes Unit officially began at the beginning of July, Saginaw County Sheriff William L. Federspiel and city officials had talked about the initiative with state police officials since Gov. Rick Snyder “directed all agencies to work collaboratively with one another,” the sheriff said.

“Quite frankly, we need to work together,” Federspiel said, noting that the Sheriff’s Department and state police have the ability to branch the investigation out farther and quicker.

The unit launched when two detective sergeants and a detective trooper from the Michigan State Police began new assignments in Saginaw at the Saginaw Police Department and Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department. The trio began collaborating on investigating major crimes throughout the county.

The unit ramped up in August, flooding the streets of Saginaw one day per week — sometimes with as many as 30 law enforcement officers working together — in an attempt, says Dutoi, “to generate information, develop leads, and interview witnesses” for the eight homicides since July 5.

The weekly operations included the Saginaw Police Department, Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department, Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Corrections and Saginaw Township Police Department. It was a “two-fold effort,” Dutoi said.

“We wanted to show a major police presence in the streets,” he said. “And we wanted to let the citizens of Saginaw know we’re doing everything possible to use all the resources available to provide a safer community.”

The team took to the “numbered streets” on the East Side, the North Side in the former Daniels Heights projects area, the South Side, where the Sunny Side gang once reigned, and finally on the city’s southwest side.

In each area, it proved difficult to find a time when there wasn’t a police vehicle — mostly undercover with the exception of the troopers, K-9 deputies, and community police officers — within two or three blocks of one another.

The goal, Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Pfau said, was to have many officers participate in the operations “at least weekly, on various days” and at various times to keep the criminals guessing and the public assured that police are active.

“We have to change tactics as the bad guys change tactics,” Dutoi said.

Larry Campbell of the Northeast Saginaw Neighborhood Association understands the importance of that, he said.

“It’s putting them more on alert,” Campbell said. “They don’t know when or where they’re going to be out. Any improvement or any increase in the visibility of the police’s activities is definitely a plus for the city and the area.”

During the operations, officers interact with a variety of individuals, from senior citizens having a cookout to children playing in their yards. Not every person who talked to police during the operations appreciated the authorities stopping them, including one mid-20s male who used it as an opportunity to curse the officers for the fatal police shooting of Milton Hall when a standoff with the homeless man who held a knife ended with his death. But most warmed up to the officers when they realized their purpose.

“I encouraged our deputies to talk to the citizens, talk to the people,” Pfau said. “Have that rapport with them, answer their questions, and let them know what we’re doing here. They appreciate us being there.”
Ana Hidalgo, the chairwoman of the Cathedral District Neighborhood Association, says that approach, as well as the continuous presence of a community police officer, is indeed appreciated.

“It tells us that we’re safe, that we’re being looked after,” Hidalgo said. “And that nothing’s going to happen because of it. I feel perfectly safe.”

An aspect of a mid-August operation was to search for a vehicle believed to have been stolen by individuals who planned to use it in drive-by shootings.

While the vehicle was not located, Dutoi and Pfau said shooters using such cars and other cars they do not own are common.

While some prefer to steal vehicles and then bring them back or abandon them in random locations, others who sell drugs will allow their clients to pay for the drugs, often crack cocaine, by loaning their car for hours at a time, according to Pfau and Dutoi.

“It’s almost like a criminal enterprise model,” Pfau said. “The drug dealer takes that car and conducts criminal activity, whether it’s theft, drug trafficking or violence. He uses that to his advantage, and turns around and gives that car back to the individual knowing what he just did. That’s how they further their criminal activity.”

Such individuals have a purpose behind the model, Dutoi said.

“It’s easy to disassociate yourself with that crime because the car used in the crime didn’t belong to you,” Dutoi said. “The police can’t identify you from the car. There’s a license plate given, but that ends up going to a different city. People from outside of the county are coming in here to buy their narcotics.”

In the four hours the officers were on the streets on that August evening, they were unable to locate any of the specific individuals mentioned in intelligence packets distributed during a briefing.
Numerous individuals were arrested, however, including two 16-year-olds in possession of guns.

One of the teens was seen riding a bicycle carrying a .22-caliber rifle in a gym sack. After a brief chase by a Saginaw police detective whose position is funded by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the teen was arrested and the gun was taken.

The other teen was arrested after a foot chase and found in possession of a .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun.

“You can’t put a premium on that,” said Federspiel, speaking the day after that operation. “That’s what it’s all about — sharing the resources, taking the guns off the streets and making sure that the violent criminals are in the jail and not on the streets.”

When a homicide or other major crime occurs, the officer in charge of the scene will call others from the team for assistance.

The added resources allow for a quicker process in examining the crime scene and especially interviewing witnesses — a key, Dutoi said, because it allows the detectives to work faster on those leads that come from witnesses and provide patrol officers with information that comes from the witnesses.

The team has been called out to investigate each of the city’s homicides since July and numerous other shootings and is a collaborative effort between the three agencies.

“We can bring a lot of resources,” Federspiel said of the team.


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