In late October, a few days after local news cameras swarmed Detroit’s courthouse to hear closing arguments in the city’s historic bankruptcy trial, “Commander” Dale Brown cruised through the stately Detroit neighborhood of Palmer Woods in a Hummer emblazoned with the silver, interlocking-crescent-moon logo of his private security company.
Brown rolled down the window to ask a middle-aged woman walking her dog whether everything was okay (it was), and whether she had seen anything out of the ordinary (she hadn’t). Satisfied, he continued on, guided by a futuristic tablet map of the neighborhood’s languid streets. These had become even more impenetrable last year when the bankrupt city paid for and constructed a series of traffic barriers on the community’s edges. On his right, he pointed out, was the Bishop’s Residence, a thirty-room Tudor Revival castle originally commissioned by a family of fabulously wealthy automobile pioneers who later sold their company to General Motors.
“This is the part of Detroit that most people are not aware of,” Brown told filmmaker Messiah Rhodes and me. And indeed, the turreted neighborhood did look far more like something you would find in Detroit’s mostly white suburbs than deep inside the city itself.
Brown is the founder of Threat Management, a private security company hired by the Palmer Woods’ neighborhood association to provide twenty-four-hour protection to this elite enclave. He knows the two sides of Detroit more intimately than just about any of its residents. After a stint as an Army paratrooper, he moved to the city’s East Side in the mid-1990s and into a neighborhood dubbed “crack alley.” There, he started running free security for his neighbors and a few adjacent apartment buildings with only a rifle, a dog and psychological tricks like heavily pocketed vests, since “pockets represent the unknown.” Next, he worked at a nightclub, enforcing such a strict no-beating-women-on-the-dance-floor policy that the joint soon had a regular stiletto-heeled line out the door.
Two decades later, Brown’s officers, with their distinctly paramilitary aesthetic, are among the most recognizable of a burgeoning number of private security personnel and surveillance systems scattered across neighborhoods in the former Motor City that people with money have decided are worth protecting.