Dearborn police chief says traffic enforcement is working, crashes are down, morale is up
Commander Issa Shahin ascended to the role as Dearborn’s top cop Jan. 1, 2022, with about two week’s notice that he was going to be taking over.
Since then, he’s done much to change the way the department operates, how they approach policing, and, according to Shahin, it has made a positive impact both in the community and with morale in the department.
In just shy of two years, Shahin said that the department is operating in an entirely different manner than under his predecessor.
“Reckless driving has been an issue in Dearborn for years,” he said. “I’m very proud of our Traffic Division.”
The Traffic Division was one of the first things that Shahin got started on when he took over, launching it within two months.
Residents saw a significant increase in police patrol vehicles throughout neighborhoods in Dearborn to enforce hazardous moving violations such as speeding or running stop signs, and Shahin said that tickets for such offenses went up, as did warnings, but the number of offenses started going down once people knew the enforcement was happening.
Year over year, there have been 15% decreases in targeted areas, such as Warren Avenue.
“I’m very proud of that,” he said. “But in other areas, we haven’t improved. I’m not naïve enough to think we’re going to fix it in one year. Traffic safety was a huge priority for residents.”
Another thing that they did was create a tracking system for complaints.
“Residents didn’t know what was happening after they made a complaint,” Shahin said. “We never closed the circle.”
He said that now, in addition to tracking the complaints, they have officers that follow up with every single complaint.
“They call the residents back, and ask them if there is anything they are missing on the complaint. Then they ask the resident if they want a follow up after we investigate it,” Shahin said. “If they do, and some don’t, we track what we do to observe and fix the issue, how many hours we spent, and what the results were. If we did a speed study or more, and then we ask if things have gotten better or worse in the area. I think there’s value in that.”
In 2022, the department set a record for hazard and moving violations.
The city started installing speed humps around some city parks, in an attempt to slow drivers and create safer areas there.
“That’s just a drop in the bucket,” Shahin said. “In the coming year, residents are going to see a lot more of that, but we have to get a lot of people involved, traffic engineers and the like.”
Another new thing that was launched was the Transparency Dashboard, which allows residents to see, in near real-time, the amount of tickets issued, warnings, police contacts, race of offenders and more.
The dashboard also allows a comparison to previous years, or specific time periods to see where things have changed in a given period of time.
“I think it’s really important that residents have access to information,” Shahin said. “The Transparency Dashboard is unfiltered information. Residents have access to all the traffic tickets that we write, and who we are writing them to.”
Arrest information, use of force, and crash data is also available on the dashboard.
“I make a point to include all of our policy and procedures there too,” Shahin said. “I think there is a general general disconnect when the public sees a police officer and how they respond to a situation. Someone who isn’t involved in law enforcement may ask ‘why did they do that?’ Well, we did that because that’s what our rules and regulations, our training said to do.”
Shahin said he’s a firm believer in making information available to the general public.
“I don’t have access to it, I can’t manipulate it. It’s fed in directly from CLEMIS (Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System),” he said. “I can’t sit there and say ‘that’s not good, let’s change that.’ It’s raw unfiltered information that is aggregated by the program and made available to the general public.
“When I became chief we had a policing model that believed you could lower crime through high visibility policing,” Shahin said.
What that meant was that officers were instructed to look for low level violations and make traffic stops, so that people would see officers making the stops.
“I know this, because I was the original sergeant who created the team under my predecessor,” he said. “The reality is that if I go out and tell a bunch of young officers to go out and find crime before it happens, they go out looking for low-level crimes.”
Shahin said the problem with that, is it creates a higher probability of profiling.
“You’re going to start disproportionately stopping people of color. Dearborn has a long history with that,” he said. “I’ve been here 25 years and no one has ever called my office with complaints about dangling ornaments or headlights out, so why would I spend any of my time and energy focusing on that?”
He said instead they focused on cars running stop signs, speeding in neighborhoods and more.
“I made a fundamental change in my first few weeks,” Shahin said. “I went to all the roll calls and said ‘guys, I want us to focus on what matters to residents. I want you in the neighborhoods addressing hazardous vehicles, not these moving violations on major thoroughfares.’”
When you compare 2022, to 2019 (the last year before COVID-19 skewed stats), hazardous moving violations, and stopping people of color went from the top of their lists, to the bottom.
While the 2019 stats show almost 40% of tickets went to people of color, last year that was about 20%, which is close to the “motoring population.”
Motoring population refers to the people who not only live in the city, but pass through in vehicles on an average day.
“We’ve started policing much more equitably,” Shahin said. “Regardless of your race, your ethnicity or your zip code, you should feel comfortable in the City of Dearborn.”
Shahin said that the changes he has implemented have also raised morale in the department, evidenced by their ability to stay close to fully staffed, while other departments across the state, and even the country struggle to find good hires.
Dearborn had 188 officers and just four vacancies at the time Shahin sat down with the Press & Guide.
“Officers are a finite resource,” he said. “We’re putting as many of them on the road as possible.”
Through some restructuring of departments, he’s been able to add 10 more officers to patrol cars, and out of offices doing jobs that non-sworn officers could otherwise do.