DETROIT – Detroit’s police chief stepped down Monday after a week of embarrassing revelations about a sexual relationship with a subordinate, forcing the city to search for a fifth leader in four years for a department dealing with one of the nation’s highest violent-crime rates.
Ralph Godbee was hired two years ago to replace a predecessor fired after an affair with a female officer who allegedly also had a relationship with Godbee.
His departure extends the revolving door of leadership in a cash-strapped city.
Detroit’s next chief will be its 10th since 1991, and several of those were forced out amid allegations of wrongdoing.
“Not having a stable head makes the rest of it unstable,” former Detroit Police Chief Isaiah McKinnon said of the musical chairs in the city’s top cop’s office. “The officers are going to go out and try to do their jobs, but you need a stable head.”
Godbee stepped down after married internal affairs officer Angelica Robinson said she and the married chief had a yearlong sexual relationship.
It was the second alleged tryst with a subordinate to surface against Godbee since he became chief in 2010.
Robinson posted a photo on Twitter of her with a police gun in her mouth. Her attorney, David Robinson, said the photo was posted after she learned Godbee was at a police conference a week ago in San Diego with another woman.
He said Godbee had other officers locate Angelica Robinson and put her under surveillance.
There was no mention of the scandal in an eight-paragraph letter Godbee sent to Mayor Dave Bing announcing what was described as a “retirement.”
Bing insisted he didn’t push the 25-year veteran to leave but called it the “right decision.”
“He was very contrite, I think embarrassed,” Bing said at a news conference. “He felt he had let me down. He felt he had let the department down. He felt he had let the citizens of Detroit down. We’re not perfect individuals, and a lot of us make mistakes. This one was very costly.”
As the city begins its search, police rank-and-file are becoming more vocal about a 10-percent pay cut and 12-hour work shifts enacted near the end of Godbee’s tenure.
Bing’s office contends those cuts and others are necessary to help reduce a budget deficit of more than $200 million and to help keep Detroit out of state receivership.
McKinnon, who led the police department for four years in the mid-1990s and resigned to teach at a local university, said the city should also look outside the ranks for its new chief.
“Detroit, traditionally, has been somewhat of an enclosed city,” McKinnon said. “For some reason, we are reluctant to bring outsiders in ... particularly in law enforcement. The feeling is Detroiters know Detroit better.”
The track record in recent years, however, has been shaky.
Godbee’s predecessor, Warren Evans, was unceremoniously dumped by Bing in 2010 for taking part in a promotional video for a cable police reality show. Bing later said he also fired Evans because the chief was romantically involved with a lieutenant. It later was learned that Godbee also had a relationship with that female officer when he held the rank of assistant chief.
A year earlier, Bing fired chief James Barren after less than a year on the job. At the time, Bing said Barren didn’t do anything wrong, but that he felt the police department needed a leadership change.
Barren had replaced Ella Bully-Cummings, who retired in 2008 during a text-messaging sex scandal that toppled Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick from office. Kilpatrick currently faces a corruption scandal.
Bully-Cummings followed Jerry Oliver, who resigned in November 2003 after federal inspectors found a loaded .25-caliber handgun in his checked baggage at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Oliver pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possession of an unlicensed handgun.
But none of their troubles compare to the fall of long-time chief William Hart whose career ended when a federal grand jury indicted him in 1991 for embezzling $2.6 million from the department’s drug enforcement fund. He served seven years in prison.
Bing, who tapped 38-year police veteran Chester Logan to lead the department in the interim while a search is being conducted, insisted that another change at the top shouldn’t reflect poorly on the department’s 2,600-plus officers.
“They’re under a lot of stress and strain. I sympathize with them. I empathize with them,” Bing said.
But the selection process will be different than how chiefs were chosen in the past, political analyst and former city councilwoman Sheila Cockrel said.
Under the new City Charter, the police board of commissioners has to hire an executive search firm to compile a list of candidates. Bing would then select who he wants to fill the job with the City Council having to approve the choice, said Cockrel, who has concerns about the charter mandate.
Godbee, who made $140,400 per year as chief, has not publicly commented on the revelations of his affair with Angelica Robinson. But in a letter to Bing wrote that “retirement is only another way to say transition.”
“I always will be actively engaged in our community, our school system, our community colleges and our churches,” the letter continued. “My mission it to continue to work hard to make this city the best it can be.”
Bing placed Godbee on a 30-day suspension last week pending the investigation.
The mayor told reporters that he had talked to Godbee “on more than one occasion” about his relationships.
“He confided in me that he had changed his ways,” Bing said. “I had no reason not to believe that. ... He didn’t live up to those expectations and it leads us to where we are.”