A Private Alternative to Police in America’s Most Dangerous City
For many decades Detroit has been known as one of America’s most dangerous cities, but at least since 2006 one organization has been working to change that—and it isn’t the police.
Founded by Dale Brown, a retired U.S. Army paratrooper and Ann Arbor native, the Detroit Threat Management Center is a private security company with a unique, multifaceted approach to public safety.
The company provides a wide variety of services, ranging from volunteer public protection and educational courses, to security consultation for other businesses. Its courses, among others, include urban survival tactics, children’s self-defense, firearms safety, and programs related to domestic violence.
While it’s difficult to briefly encapsulate the full scope of its activities, Brown characterized the Center as “a school first, a community service organization second, and a threat management provider third.”
Before the Center’s creation in 2006, the project had its beginnings in the mid-1990s, when Brown founded a school that offered courses on personal safety to residents of Detroit’s Eastside. Brown, however, soon realized that residents needed more than education, but protection.
“First I tried liaison with law enforcement. That proved to be non-productive, so I became proactive,” Brown said. “The only way to do that was to create a mechanism that would support that. So I created an organization from the school that would protect the community against violence and crime.”
To secure the legal right to operate, early on Brown worked with Detroit building owners to protect their property and tenants. The result, according to Brown, was that “the building owners went into the ‘black’ for the first time in 20 years,” while the number of 911 calls from the area dropped.
In 1997, Brown started the Survival Scouts program, a free educational course which, in addition to self-defense skills, taught youths ages 5-17 “how to project professionalism and leadership to enhance employability and individual marketability,” according to the Center’s website. At the time of writing, Mr. Brown was traveling to San Jose, California to give a presentation on the Survival Scouts project.
The Center also offers training to police officers. “This program I believe—I know—will save a lot of lives on the department,” said one Detroit police officer with 20 years of experience in a video testimonial. The officer added “I would highly recommend this training for all agencies.”
In 2011, the Threat Management Center was featured in a Fox 2 TV news segment after the organization helped Detroit resident Alejandra Vega reunite with her 2 year-old daughter. Vega had fled her own home due to physical abuse from her partner. Personnel from the Center accompanied her to back her home to safely retrieve her daughter, free of charge.
“They’ve been checking on me for going on two years now,” said one elderly Detroit resident in another video. “It made it easier for me to sleep at night knowing I had someone to call that I could rely on. I’m a walking testimonial to Threat Management.”
It isn’t just the Center’s many services and community outreach programs which make it unique, though. The whole organization is rooted in a philosophy which differs fundamentally from that of traditional law enforcement.
The Center and law enforcement, Brown said, “just don’t have the same perspective.” He distinguished the police’s model from his own, which he calls “threat management.”
“They’re two different concepts. One is based on prosecution—this is what law enforcement is interested in.” The other “is based on protection. By using threat management we’re protecting people without creating violence in our interactions and outcomes,” Brown said. “We come to help, not enforce laws.”
Brown’s methods often involve the use of non-aggressive communication with potentially violent people. “If you want to actually help people and provide safety,” Brown said, “you also have to know how to talk to them.” He continued, “If you’re a good communicator you can sell something to someone, you can be a salesman. What do we sell? We sell peace.”
The threat management model explicitly forbids the use of lethal force, and to date the Center’s personnel have never taken a life. This is in stark contrast to the Detroit Police, who have a less than exemplary record in this regard—although to what extent is unknown, since it doesn’t keep count of the number of deaths its officers cause.
The Detroit Police Department did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
In the future, Brown said he hopes to expand the Threat Management Center to Ann Arbor and other states outside of Michigan.
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