Michael Krotche, June 15th, 2016
WW: Hello, my name is William Winkel. Today is June 15, 2016. We are in Sterling Heights, MI. This is an interview for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am sitting down with Michael Krotche. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
MK: You’re welcome.
WW: Can you first tell me where and when you were born?
WW: 1941? And you grew up in Detroit?
MK: I grew up right on the border of Hamtramck and Detroit.
WW: What was your neighborhood like?
MK: Polish. Very Polish. I went to a great school that taught Polish, masses were in Polish—well, I say mass, sermons were in Polish, at that time it was still Latin mass. Very, very ethnic, very stable, everybody knew everybody. Just a great neighborhood.
WW: What did your parents do for a living?
MK: Dad worked at Plymouth automotive plant. My mother had a myriad of jobs. She worked at some factories, she worked at the Fisher building doing maintenance. We weren’t poor, but we certainly weren’t affluent. Both my parents worked to put us through parochial schools.
WW: What school did you go to?
MK: I went to Our Lady Queen of Apostles for grade school, then I went to Catholic Central for high school.
WW: What year did you graduate high school?
WW: ’59? What was it like growing up in the city? Did you stay in your neighborhood or did you venture out?
MK: Yeah, yeah, very much in the neighborhood atmosphere. I can’t say, other than the fact that—I started caddying when I was eleven years old—
WW: You started what-ing?
MK: Caddying, at the Detroit Golf Club. So I started caddying at eleven, and the fact that I went to Catholic Central, which was like a new neighborhood for me, it was Outer Drive and Hubbell. So I wasn’t very familiar with it, but we were pretty much neighborhood oriented, and that was just the times I guess.
WW: Throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, did your neighborhood become integrated or did it stay—
MK: No, it was an ethnic, Polish neighborhood. Most of the people there spoke Polish. Not in their daily lives, but they certainly were capable of it. Like I said, the parish was Polish. The schools were Polish. I wasn’t a Pole! In fact, my mother was Irish, but my father was born in Austria of Polish descent, but I certainly wasn’t being considered Polish.
WW: Are there any experiences you’d like to share from growing up in that neighborhood?
MK: It was just a great neighborhood. We had a lot of kids, we did things together. Probably my first really leaving of the neighborhood was when I went to high school. Ten of us took the test at Catholic Central—I didn’t want to go there, but my buddies did—and two of us made it. And I ended up going out there, and it was probably one of the best things I ever done. But I can’t say I had a lot of really outside exposure until I went to college. I went to Wayne out of high school for basically two years, and in the middle of my sophomore year, my dad died. I was nineteen, I was the oldest of four siblings, I had to go to work. So I quit in my sophomore year and I joined the police department as a cadet and I was in an administrative position for two years until 1963 when I turned 21 and I became a sworn officer.
WW: When you went to Wayne State, did you move down there or did you stay in your neighborhood?
MK: No, I lived at home but I drove myself to school every day. I was selected to play freshman basketball. That was probably my first exposure to African Americans. Cause half the team was white, half the team was black. The coach was black. So that was probably my real association because like I said, the neighborhood that I grew up in was white and Polish. It was a very ethnic neighborhood.
WW: What did you study when you went to Wayne?
MK: Early on, it was just general studies. I had intentions of becoming a cop, even though I was kind of forced into joining the department earlier than I had planned to, because of my dad’s death, but I had always envisioned myself as being a policeman. Always what I wanted to do.
HS [Hannah Sabal]: So would it have been a degree in criminal justice?
MK: They didn’t have a criminal justice program at the time. I went into the general studies with the idea that at some point in time, probably in my second year, I would start looking for a major to declare, but it would be something in the law end of it. In the back of my mind, there were times I thought about being a lawyer, but that didn’t really turn me on.
WW: And what year again did you join the police department?
MK: ’61. February of ’61.
WW: What precinct were you placed into after you joined?
MK: When I joined the police department as a sworn officer, it was February of ’63.
MK: And I went to the 7th Precinct, which was Mack and Gratiot. I was there for a year, and one of the precincts had a ticket strike of the officers, and as a disciplinary process, they transferred a bunch of them out and a bunch of officers that were in my particular class, academy class, had just completed their probation so they went out and said, “okay, we’re going to replace these guys with younger officers,” and I got transferred without any say-so, just got a phone call saying, “You’re going.” I was there from ’64 to 1970.
WW: At that time the Detroit police department was all white, correct?
MK: Well it wasn’t all white, we probably had—on my particular shift—out of probably fifty officers, we probably had four or five that were black.
MK: And there was nothing any different about them than any of the white guys. I mean, everybody got along. Nobody thought of them as black and nobody thought of us as white. I mean, we were all cops.
WW: Was that just the mode in your particular precinct or do you think that that was city-wide?
MK: I can’t speak for other precincts. You know, I can only speak to the precinct I was in. We had probably out of maybe—and again, I’m guessing—150 total officers in that precinct, we probably had ten that were black. There weren’t any problems. Everybody got along. They were all integrated crews: blacks work with whites, whites work with blacks. There weren’t any problems.
WW: For being a police officer in the 1960s, did you notice any tension growing in the city?
MK: Yeah. I think in our precinct maybe a little more than others, because we had a group—basically they were the Black Panthers, is what they were. They were over on Kercheval right near McClellan in a storefront. The year before the ’67 riots, they had created a little turmoil and it resulted in us—not us, but in the department bringing in extra resources. It was kind of tense. It was the prelude to the following year. And that particular group had some people that were known as Black Panthers, and at the very least had an allegiance to the Black Panther movement at that time. And they did some things to try to stir up the pot. There were a couple situations where they got involved in arrests, or they weren’t a part of it, but they intervened. But we had some broken windows, we had some stuff that lasted a couple days. It was kind of a prelude. I certainly never saw ’67 coming.
WW: You didn’t?
MK: No. I mean there were issues—obviously there were issues—but I don’t think, I think if you talk to most of the guys at that time, the vast majority would say they didn’t see it coming. I mean, there were some incriminations, you had some people that were obviously stir up the problems from both sides, but it wasn’t something that I would have forecast.
WW: Where were you living in 1967?
MK: In the area of 8 mile and Gratiot.
WW: On the Detroit side?
MK: Yeah, on the Detroit side. In fact, the very first block in the city limits.
WW: Were you on duty that Saturday night, Sunday morning?
MK: I sure was.
WW: Can you speak about that?
MK: [speaking at the same time] I was working midnights. I had requested a couple hours of comp time because my mother was going to have a little family get-together at my mother’s house. And my mother lived right on the border of Hamtramck and Detroit, where I grew up. About 5 to 6 that morning, we were driving into the precinct lot, and the dispatcher came on and said, “There was a little incident on the west side.” And that was all that was said. Nothing else. “Just a little incident on the west side.” So I went in and I said to the lieutenant, “What do you think?” in light of what we had just heard. He said, “If it were any big deal, we would’ve heard about it by now. Get outta here.” I said, “Okay,” and I left. I went home, I got my wife, got my kids, and I went to my mother’s. I was working midnights, so by the time that we got there, it was roughly ten o’clock probably, by the time we fed the kids. And my sister’s bedroom faced to the west, so that’s where I went to sleep. I went to sleep about ten o’clock, and about twelve-thirty, one o’clock my wife came upstairs and she said, “The station’s on the line.” And I said, “The station?” And she said, “Yeah!” So I get up out of bed and as I did I looked out the window and I could see big rolls of black smoke to the west. And I thought, there must be a hell of a fire somewhere. That’s probably why they’re calling. So I went downstairs, and I answered the phone, and the lieutenant’s on the phone, and the lieutenant says, “How fast can you get here?” I said, “What the hell’s going on?” He said, “We’ve got a big problem right now.” He said, “We need you to get in here as soon as you can.” I said, “Okay.” She took me home, dropped me off, I changed, got my uniform on, I went to work, and I got home the next day at three o’clock. So I was gone roughly twenty-four hours. And that was my introduction to it, like I said, we had no idea there was anything going on! Other than this thing coming on saying there was a little incident on the west side.
WW: Throughout that first day and into the second day, did the police department feel like they could control what was going on?
MK: Yeah, I think they did, but it was starting to escalate. On the east side, particularly, where I was. We started getting looting, little bit of burning, more looting of stores and so forth. There was a liquor store that I think was at Mack and—I think it was Bewick. The State of Michigan liquor store. That thing got cleaned out in no time flat. I mean, they went through the doors in, man, no time flat. It’s funny because I watched Baltimore and I thought, man there’s a repetition, same thing that we saw. We had some shooting, there was some sniper fire. Like I said, there was some burning but we didn’t have a lot of fires, it was more looting than everything else. By Monday it had really escalated. Monday, it took off. I think by the time I left on Monday, it had to be three o’clock, three-thirty, we knew we had our hands full. And we knew that we were losing it.
WW: Given that sense, was it a relief when the National Guard came in?
MK: Yeah, no doubt. No doubt. They had some things—if nothing else, a show of force that we couldn’t exude. I mean they brought in certain vehicles and weaponry—just the sight of it had to be a deterrent in some respects.
WW: Was it the same feeling when the federal troops moved in? The 101st and the 82nd?
MK: Probably, at that point in time, I think we started to feel like we were getting a little bit of a handle on it, but yeah, without a doubt. I mean when you see army, when you see a tank driving up and down the street, yeah, it gets your attention. They had a command post set up at Southeastern High School. They had a fifty-caliber mounted on the, kind of a round-a-bout, on the lawn of the school. That got your attention. You see that big gun out there, you knew that people weren’t playing games anymore. But yeah, the Guard was probably the first big thing because we started to feel like we were getting some support. When the army came in, that was—I think once the army came in, things started to calm down real fast, whether it was because those that were involved in the damaging and the looting and the rest of it, just [16:04??] but now they’re serious. Now maybe we better pull our lines a little bit, but I’d say start of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, it was probably Wednesday before we started to get the feeling that maybe we’re starting to get a grip on this. More so on the west than on the east side, where I was at. The west side had a lot more burning, a lot more fires, we may have had more shooting. We had a sniper that somehow that got into an old abandoned show across from the 5th precinct, and he took some shots at the precinct. And there were some other sniper instances. We had one sniper from Kercheval and St. Jean. You knew he was a sniper because you could see the tracers coming in. We knew we were under fire. He was shooting tracers at us. It was a strange time because you were scared to death, I’m sure most of us were, you didn’t know if you turned the next block if someone would take a shot at you. People were running around carrying stuff that you know is stolen. But at the same time you could go after some of them, but you knew if you did, you’d be sticking your neck out. There could be a whole lot more waiting for you. So some of it was allowed to slide for the first couple days. But the liquor store, they hit that. It was a State of Michigan liquor store, and it got cleaned in no time flat. There was a market, they cleaned that out, and that one they burned. They burned it and it was robbed. Over on Willowbridge and Mack.
WW: After the federal troops moved in and the disturbances quieted down, was there a sense of relief or anger? How did the police department react?
MK: You know, I can’t speak for the department. I can only speak for myself. It was a feeling of frustration, in some respects, because we had seen the city terribly damaged. We were in the national—probably international—headlines. It was never going to be the same. 12th Street was never going to be the same. The east side was never going to be the same. Just the attitude in the city was never going to be the same. One of the godsends was the Tigers. That World Series in ’68 was a godsend because it created a kind of unified approach to something that everybody became a part of. That had a big, big impact on maybe lessening what could have been some really bad feeling after the fact. There was a sense of relief after it finally subsided, but there was also a sense of depression because we had seen so much done, so much damage. 12th Street was basically eradicated. A lot of people lost homes that shouldn’t have lost homes. Businesses that shouldn’t’ve closed. White and black. It didn’t matter. We knew then that it was never going to be the same. It was never going to be the same.
WW: You spoke about how your first shift lasted nearly twenty-four hours. What were the rest of your shifts like that week?
MK: I got off Monday around three o’clock, and I had to be back for the midnight to 12pm shift, so I worked midnights to noon for the next, I would say, week. I can’t remember exactly when we went back to an eight hour shift, but it was at least a week. Usually we would be busy from the onset, from around midnight until, maybe six, then there’d be a lull, and then it would start to pick up again around, after daylight, around nine o’clock. We’d start to get some incidents and some problems. The other shift, the guys that worked the noon to midnight, they caught bad times. Certainly much worse than we did. In part, because there was a curfew and you had to be off the street—and don’t hold me to the hours because it’s been a while—but it was like eight o’clock to eight o’clock, so we could be driving around at two o’clock in the morning and you wouldn’t see a soul. You wouldn’t see headlights, you wouldn’t see anything. Then all of a sudden you hear, “Pop! Pop! Pop!” The officers that worked the noon to midnight, they got their butts kicked at times.
WW: You spoke about how looting wasn’t heavily—arresting for looting was heavily done because you were sticking your neck out.
MK: We made a lot of arrests for looting, but there were a lot that you just didn’t have a choice, because number one, you were outnumbered. Severely outnumbered. We had four-man cars, and in a lot of cases, they would have caravans of three cars with four officers each. And still, if you pulled into that liquor store, you talk about being outnumbered. You’re outnumbered. There was a safety blanket that you had to maintain.
WW: Was the curfew heavily enforced?
MK: Yeah, and I think a lot of the arrests that were mandated during that time were because of the curfew. A lot. Some people just didn’t take it to heart at first, and when they end up in the bowels of the Bastille, they realize, yeah, I guess they’re going to enforce it. Oh yeah, we had, oh I can’t tell you how many people at one time in that precinct under arrest. 100? And probably at least 50% were for broken curfew. Because that was the one way they had to convince people that you had to stay off the streets. You have to get off. We were going to enforce it rigorously and they did. We arrested—myself, probably a dozen. And most of them were after midnight, and they were out there foolishly. Why would you be out there under the circumstances, unless you’re potentially up to no good? The precinct itself, we had upwards of a hundred prisoners at one time. In fact, we had to store them in the garage because that was the only place, secure place, that we could do it.
WW: How do you interpret what happened in July 1967? Do you see it as a riot? Do you see it as a rebellion?
MK: I’ve always referred to it as a riot because in my connotation of a riot, it’s where public law has been allowed to be trampled on and it was. I mean, there were some individuals that came out that thought that they could talk to the group that started the whole thing, which was the blind pig, and there were some public officials that found out quickly their voice wasn’t being heard. Now I wasn’t there, but I’ve read enough about it that I know that’s what happened. It was a warm night, blind pigs were a dime a dozen. Every precinct had them, every neighborhood probably had them. Certainly in the black community, they were just a social entity. They were illegal, but they were there. It was just a fact of life. And I had done some raids on blind pigs, and we never had any problems. People knew that what they were doing was wrong, you weren’t after the people that were the party-goers; we were after the people that were running it. So maybe two or three people would go to jail, all the stuff would be confiscated. Some of the customers might or might not get a ticket, life went on and they’d be open the next weekend. I mean, seriously, they would! But that particular night, whatever the mood was over there—and I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak to it—must’ve got a little out of hand, and once it got out of hand, six o’clock on a Sunday morning is probably the weakest time for law enforcement. You’ve got the fewest resources. And that’s what happened.
WW: Backtracking a little bit, when you were with the police department, what was your primary work? Just a moment ago you said you did a couple raids, were you on the vice squad?
MK: I was a patrolman from ’63 to ’70, to ’71, and ’71 I got promoted to sergeant. And that entire time I spent in the precinct on the street. Then I was a sergeant on the street for about a year and a half, and I was asked if I would take over the Police Athletic League program, which at the time was miniscule. It was very, very small, but they had visions of advancing the program, and they had an agreement with Chrysler Corporation to come in as a big sponsor and really expand the program. I had a reasonable background in athletics. I had some experience in buying equipment and that. And they asked me if I would come in and take it over as a sergeant. I had bosses above me, but basically I was running it for a time. Chrysler came in and that thing took off. They started spending money, they started sponsorships, it went from a very small program to where it’s at today. I mean, they’re renovating the site of the old Tiger’s Stadium. They’re going to put their new offices down there. So it really took off. And I was there for almost two years, and I was ready to be a cop again. I was an athletic director, but I was ready to be a cop again. So I went back to a precinct and I stayed there, and then I got promoted to lieutenant. Basically I spent my last fourteen years on the street.
WW: And when did you leave the police department?
MK: I left there in April of 1987. Chrysler made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. They came to me and offered me the job as Lee Iaccoco’s body guard. Driver/bodyguard. I really didn’t want the job, but they recruited me, recruited me, and I took it as a one-month trial. I was there two days and said, am I nuts? What am I thinking about? So I left the department officially in April of ’87 and I was with him for eight and a half years. And then I did internal investigations for Chrysler for eight and a half years, and I retired, and just before I retired, they made me another offer I couldn’t refuse, which was a part-time position doing kind of what I was doing towards the latter part of my career, which was investigating people that were out on disability and on workman’s comp that were suspect. They gave me that position. I ran everything from Boston to Vancouver. What I did basically was manage the cases. I contracted out a lot of surveillance work, I reviewed all the surveillance work, and if I thought that there was a basis for discipline against an employee, I would take it to the higher-ups and they would make the decisions, and then I would go interview the employee after he’d been interviewed by our doctor. It was a fun job, probably the most fun job I ever had. You really got a sense of the human psyche. Some of the people…we had one that was blind, couldn’t see; she could drive everywhere better than me! I spent almost 25 years with the department and my only regret’s probably the last couple years, because it got to be so political. It really, really became political. I went through Affirmative Action, I was one of those passed over, bitter about it. I’m probably a little bitter about it to this day. I had to go back and retake, retest. I was 22 on the promotional list, and they promoted about sixty, but I didn’t get it. Because what they did is take one white male, one white female, one black male, one black female. So if you were 22 on the list, are you number 10 white male, or number 22? Cause that’s how it went. But later on, the union took it to court, and because of a labor issue about a year and a half before, the commissioner then made the comment as Affirmative Action was being invoked that if there were any openings in any rank, we’ll fill them. Well here come like twelve openings for the rank of lieutenant and he wouldn’t fill them because they had promoted all of the black males, all of the females, white and black, there was nothing left but white males, so he didn’t want to promote. They gave him another test. Next test came along, they couldn’t pass me because I got so high up. I actually got promoted, and they went back and went to the union, I ended up getting 10 months of back seniority and 10 months of back pay. That was kind of an after-effect in the long run of the change in the city. Because when Coleman came in, things changed dramatically. Particularly the police department. Particularly the police department.
WW: When did you move out of the city?
MK: 1988. I had three cars stolen in a period of nine months, three of my cars. And at the last one I said, okay, I had a new car that I had purchased for my wife got stolen and torched, and I said, “Okay,” I told her, “Go find us a house,” and she did a rock star job and here we are.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
MK: Like I say, in some respects I kind of had a sheltered life until I went to college because that was just the neighborhood I was raised in. The city, to me, the real change came with Coleman Young. That’s when the real change came. Even after the riots, STRESS, which came in under John Eccles, probably a major factor in Coleman’s election. But after he came in, everything started changing dramatically. Certainly, certainly with the police department because we went from, probably we had 85% male white, maybe even more than that, to suddenly we were getting a large influx of recruits that were blacks and females both, a lot of females. And that caused some problems, a lot of problems. Did the riots affect the city? Oh, absolutely, no question about it. The election of Coleman I think was probably the major factor. In fact, I’m convinced it was the major factor. Because things were turned upside down. His vision of the city was much different from previous administrations; pretty much different than probably the populous as a whole.
WW: How do you see the city going today?
MK: You know, it’s funny I see a turn-around that I didn’t think I would’ve saw three years ago, four years ago. My biggest fear for the city yet remains the residential aspect of it. My wife and I lived, like I said, near 8 mile and Gratiot. I drove through there about a month ago. It was enough to make me sick to my stomach. I mean, it was a bedroom, bungalow kind of community. Brick homes, nice. You drive down the street, they’re burned out, they’re vacant, they’re abandoned. That’s probably the one area that’s going to take the longest. Until people feel safe to come back. Downtown—I love what I see downtown. I’m glad to see that they’ve finally got the M-1 Project going, I’m glad to see the arenas, the casinos, the housing down there. You’ve got Gilbert, and the Illitches, and other people who have committed their resources to bring that area back, but until the residential areas are brought back, Detroit as a whole is not going to come back. We had 1.7 million people living there in Detroit, when I graduated from high school in ’55, to 700,000 now. That’s where it’s at. It’s in the residential areas. The east side of Detroit is decimated. I mean, absolutely decimated. When we got married, we lived on a street called Lindhurst which was basically 6 mile, well maybe between 6 and 7 Mile on John R. street. You can’t drive down those streets. They’re so strewn with garbage, you literally can’t go through them. You don’t know what street you’re on because there are no street signs. Until that gets turned around, individual homes, people wanting to live back in the city, they’ve got a long haul. Downtown, magnificent. Some of the business areas I’m really pleased to see come back. My granddaughter goes to Wayne. She lives off of Ferry and Cass in one of those 120-year-old apartments, and we go down there occasionally to pick her up and we’ll go have breakfast. It’s amazing to see what Wayne State’s done. I mean, I started out there, but in a different era. To see where that’s come, to see the medical center. My wife was an RN down at Harper Hospital for years. She’s only been gone ten years, but in ten years it’s amazing how much has changed for the good. I’m optimistic for the city. I hope that they continue on the same vein that they’re going on right now. The mayor is a former graduate of my old high school, so I got a little special place for him, but I think he’s done a good job. But he’s got the Gilberts, he’s got the Illitches, he’s got the big money that’s willing to invest, and that’s what it’s going to take. You didn’t have that ten years ago. That’s why, if you drove down Woodward, it looked like a ghost town. It was funny because one night, Mr. I and I were driving home one night from the ball game, we’re driving down Woodward, and there was nothing. He said to me, “My God,” he says, “You could shoot a cannon down these streets!” Yeah. And I said, “This isn’t unique. This is the way it is.” But some of that is starting to turn around, we’re starting to see some of those buildings being renovated, businesses coming into it, so I’m optimistic for the city. I think it’s got a hell of a start to come back. But the residential area, that’s got to be the key. Number one, the biggest reason I think the residential area has to come back, taxes. You don’t have that revenue right now that the city desperately needs. And that’s where it’s going to be. The tax base in the city has been totally eroded, totally. Business can support a lot of tax, but until they get the residential areas up and running, get that and the schools. The school system is pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. I can remember one night when I was still with the department, we had to go up to Northern high school, which was on Woodward; they’d had a break-in. And for whatever reason, they had a bunch of papers, essays, term papers that were outside the building, outside the window. I’m certainly not a professor of English, but I picked them up, starting reading them, and they were horrific. I mean the English, the spelling was horrific! I thought, my God, these are kids that are getting cheated. They’re getting short changed if this is acceptable. They’re getting cheated. I went to Wayne, I’ll never forget. We had a guy who was a professor, he was a Hungarian Freedom Fighter, and he’d come here in 1957, I think. He taught a class and one of the subjects in this day was schools, public schools versus parochial schools. And he made the comment, “I can tell by reading a paper who went to public school and who went to parochial school.” Some of the kids that went to public school took offense to it. He said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you a paragraph. All I want’s one paragraph. I’ll grade them and I’ll tell you which is which: who went to public and who went to private.” He missed on two. And I’m not downgrading public education, don’t get me wrong. But that night at Northern, I read some of those papers and I thought, oh my God, how can you accept this? We’re cheating these kids! These kids are being cheated if that’s acceptable! They’re being cheated.
WW: One final question that I did miss earlier: Of the arrestees, were they primarily black or a solid mix?
MK: I would say probably 90% of those arrested—maybe I’m a little off, maybe 80% of those arrested were black. The area that I patrolled was probably 90% black. I can think of one Hispanic that we arrested and the only reason I think of him was because to this day, we’re convinced he was one of the snipers. Couldn’t prove it, but we knew damn well he was.
WW: All right. Thank you very much for sitting down with us today!
MK: Thank you. I don’t know what I’ve contributed, but…
WW: Greatly appreciate it.