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He often says, half-jokingly, that "we're five minutes from disaster all the time."
The police force shrank as Detroit's population — now about 700,000 — dramatically declined. From 2000 to 2010 alone, the city lost about a quarter-million residents. Parts of Detroit are prospering, notably a revitalized downtown. But some neighborhoods are barren landscapes littered with abandoned homes and weed-filled lots. And some streets resemble disaster zones, with initials scrawled on houses, signifying to demolition crews where there's no water or electricity.
Vandals often plunder these empty houses, hauling off anything of possible value: windows, doors, bathtubs, sinks, copper, ductwork, dry wall, heaters, fixtures and more. "It's like a stripped turkey bone," Coleman adds.
Two years, ago, Officer Nicholle Quinn recalls, she and her partner were searching for a burglary suspect in a pitch-black abandoned house. As they headed toward the basement, she could hear and smell water. She told her partner to stop — "something doesn't feel right."
She was right. Copper pipes had been ripped out and rising water had reached the basement ceiling. Anyone who stepped down could have drowned.
Quinn is among the many officers feeling a financial squeeze, both with a smaller paycheck and the increased cost of prescription drugs for her and her 11-year-old son to treat their year-round allergies. She moonlights whenever she can for extra cash, but isn't happy about it.
"People become police officers because they love what they do," Quinn says. "They want to solve problems. They want to catch bad guys." But some rank-and-file officers feel they've borne the brunt of the department's sacrifices and it reaches the point, she says, where "you start hating to have to go to work for 10 percent less."
Quinn's original plan was to work 20 years so that she would be eligible for retirement. Five years short of the mark, she's changed course. She's studying for her master's degree in public administration. "I want to be completely and utterly done with being a police officer," she says.
If she goes, she'll join the exodus of officers who've found better-paying jobs in suburban departments, universities and law enforcement agencies around the country. Detroit police officers' salaries top out at less than $50,000 a year.
In January, 19 new officers graduated and joined the force, but since the start of 2012, 425 members of the department — nearly 20 percent — have left. The department could not provide details, including how many are retirements.
Not all of this is new.
"I think the morale of the typical police officer frankly has been poor as long as I can remember," says Martin Hershock, dean of the college of arts, sciences and letters at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the son of a Detroit police officer who served from the 1950s to the 1970s.
"My father and his friends constantly complained about community attitudes toward the police and the constant struggle they had with the city to protect their pensions," he says. "The city has often looked to balance the budget on the backs of the police and fire."
But being an officer has become a "thankless job," with a vast area to patrol, a steady stream of citizen complaints and a general mistrust by a largely black populace, Hershock adds. "They see the police department as perpetrating a long-standing culture of aggression, particularly toward minorities, even though the department itself is predominantly minority," he says.
Barrick, the union official, says he hears from officers daily. Veterans ask if they should quit now in case things get worse; younger police wonder if it's time to jump ship. He says it's hard to make decisions with so much unknown. He expects a turnaround, but the big question is when.
"I do believe things are going to get better," he says, "but do you want to stay around and wait to see it?"