Yesterday the Detroit Free Press revealed that gross amounts of legal forensic evidence and crime analysis supplies were left unsecured and unpreserved, abandoned by the Detroit Police Department when they were forced to leave the building two years ago.
The Detroit Crime Lab was shut down in April 2008 after a 10% error rate was found in firearms analysis. Upon its closure, evidence from some 10,000 unprocessed rape kits were discovered in the lab, dating back nearly twenty years.
I became aware of Detroit’s rape kit backlog in June 2010 while exploring the role of sex in Detroit and my feelings of dissonance about the city. I was never able to find much information about crime lab or the rape kits, due to the lack of media coverage and a lack of consistency in what little coverage there was. I thought that I might be able to grasp the situation a little better if I had a visual understanding of the scene.
In January 2011, I decided to see if entry into the crime lab was possible. The lab is located in Brush Park, which is a largely abandoned area near the Brewster Housing Projects at I-75 and Woodward–just across the freeway from Comerica park and blocked out of sight by tall row of relatively new condominiums that line Woodward. The crime lab itself is a repurposed elementary school (Stephen Foster, closed in 1987) located at the corner of Brush and Adelaide.
I drove around the block slowly, several times, looking carefully at the building. checking for broken windows or cracked doors. I found none. After circling the building once, I noticed someone following me. A man in a junker car with the driver’s window rolled down was honking and gesturing to me, waving a blunt in the air.
I was scared–as far as my eyes could see, there was no one else in the area. It was just me–driving in circles around an abandoned crime lab–and him–following me at an increasing speed, trying to get my attention. In a panic I led him on a mini goose chase around the neighborhood of one-way streets. It wasn’t long before I hit John R and a stream of cars going 25 miles an hour left me stagnant.
The man pulled up next to me, got out of his car, and walked over to my window. “Can I get a light?” he asked. I noticed he was wearing a security guard uniform, so I cracked my window just enough to slide a lighter through. “You can keep it,” I said.
As I began asking the man in blue about his position and credentials, it became apparent that he was mentally handicapped–not to the point of being nonfunctional, but he was certainly unfortunate as a social and intellectual creature.
The man stood outside of my car in the cold for at least fifteen minutes and talked to me about his life. He said that his job was to drive his car around the area surrounding the Brush Park crime lab and make sure no one trespassed into the building or stepped foot on its grounds. He confessed that his payment for a 30 hour work week was $200.
I asked the man if he would let me enter the building, and he said that if he did he would lose his job. I told him that I would never ask him to do anything that would jeopardize his income. He then asked me out on a date. Then for a cigarette. I told him I had to get back to work and he returned to duty, driving around the empty lots in his junker car, smoking.