By Wendy Clem
Contributing Writer Jul/29/2004
The Sound End - The Student Voice of WSU
was while leaving a formal event decked out in a tuxedo that former Detroit
Police Chief Dr. Isaiah “Ike” McKinnon first got the call.
Officer Jerry Philpot was shot and gravely injured from a high-powered
weapon that tore apart his heart after slipping past his protective
McKinnon, 61, rushed to the Philpot home, instructing his department to
withhold all news until he could talk to Philpot’s wife, Diane.
“When I got there, she was sitting in the back of a squad car, smiling —
surprised to see me,” said McKinnon.
“‘Chief McKinnon! Jerry loves you,’” she exclaimed, he said.
McKinnon steeled his nerves, searching the eyes of his officer’s wife. He’d
dealt with death before, but never in this capacity.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, extending a hand. “Jerry didn’t make it.”
Accompanying the new widow to the hospital where Philpot had been taken,
McKinnon insisted that the doctor let her see her husband.
“The room where they worked on him was still a mess from all the emergency
materials,” said McKinnon. “But I told the doctor to let her be with him.
She wanted to touch his warm body just one more time.”
Like a scene out of a Hollywood police drama, this was the first of four
times during his tenure that Chief McKinnon endured the heart-wrenching
“officer down.” Three other tragedies occurred on McKinnon’s four-year
watch, including the death of a cadet.
McKinnon has committed those memories to his latest book, “In the Line of
Duty,” which details the deaths of 500 fallen Michigan officers. On average
one police officer in America is killed every 53 hours.
The Public Broadcasting System plans an upcoming special on “In the Line of
Duty.” In the meantime, sales of the book benefit MI-COPS, a nonprofit
support group for families of fallen officers.
McKinnon, known for his success in negotiating truces between rival gangs,
has saved suicidal “jumpers” and restructured the Detroit Police Department.
Eventually, he said he took the chief’s job to heart so much that he was
averaging three hours of sleep a night. He approached Mayor Dennis Archer,
who had appointed him to the position, and said it was “time to go.”
“I was suffering from migraines,” said McKinnon, peering through thin-rimmed
glasses. “It’s worth it that you’re helping people, but not when you’re
[personally] being impacted that way.”
Today, the towering African-American remains a familiar and friendly face in
Motown. But, his easy smile and sense of humor don’t completely mask his
able, get-it-done manner or the multi-tasking he completes. Usually attired
now in suits, McKinnon purports a commanding presence, but knows not to let
pressures get to him.
“I laugh a lot,” he said. “If you let take it too seriously, you get sick.”
McKinnon teaches as an associate professor at the University of Detroit
Mercy, specializing in education and human services. He writes books,
broadcasts a TV show, travels and appears as a motivational speaker before
groups, like his recent appearance at the Oxford Public Library. He’s also
been a guest on national talk shows like “Oprah.”
Two more books are in the works, including one filled with unusual and funny
police stories and another based on McKinnon’s father, Cota, who died in
1982. McKinnon’s parents were an inspiration for the boy who was raised in a
religious home near Detroit’s humble Brewster Projects, and made daily treks
to the public library and the Detroit Institute of Arts starting at the age
“My dad grew up in Bullock County, Ala.,” said McKinnon. “He always said
‘Stand tall, no matter what happens to you in life’.”
“Stand Tall” is the title of McKinnon’s first book, an autobiography
covering more than three decades of work in the public and private sectors.
It includes frank discussion of his “merciless” 1957 beating by Detroit
police officers at 14 years old — the pivotal moment that led to his vow to
become a police officer. He wanted to “make a positive difference in
McKinnon’s education is extensive — he is a graduate of Detroit’s Mercy
College, has a master’s degree from the University of Detroit and a Ph.D
from Michigan State University. He also graduated from Virginia’s FBI
Academy and the Secret Service, and is certified with Homeland Security’s
highest level at the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute.
Education is a subject often addressed during motivational speeches wrapped
around McKinnon’s theme: “Taking Charge of Your Destiny.”
He started with the Detroit police department in 1965 and 10 years later
entered a biracial marriage with Pat, a WSU graduate. They have two sons,
Jeffrey and Jason.
McKinnon’s life has been filled with luminaries, spanning sports, politics
and entertainment. He sang with the Detroit police band The Blue Pigs and
has performed with the Temptations and The Beach Boys, even cutting his own
rendition of “What a Wonderful World.”
McKinnon is the only ex-police chief who’s won an Emmy award; his WDIV-TV
show on Channel 4, “Stay Safe With Ike,” regularly informs 4 million
If they ever make a movie based on Ike McKinnon, he thinks he’d like Denzel
Washington to portray him.
McKinnon has met five presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald W. Reagan,
George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
His favorite was Reagan, who gave him five minutes prefaced with “Well, how
are you?” complete with Reagan’s characteristic intonation.
“We talked mostly about law enforcement,” McKinnon said. He recalled it as
“Five minutes with a president feels like an eternity!”
Nelson Mandela reflected on McKinnon’s question when they met: “Aren’t you
angry after having been kept in prison for 27 years?”
Mandela answered, “If I become angry, then I have tunnel vision. Then, I
can’t see beyond that anger.”
“That was the same thing my father taught me,” said McKinnon.
McKinnon met baseball’s legendary Satchel Paige, played basketball with Dave
Bing and brought Bill Cosby to meet his sons. World leaders like Mandela and
Bishop Desmond Tutu are just two of the many people he’s rubbed elbows with.
He’s also traveled to every state in America, except for Alaska and Maine.
His audiences include the people whose lives he’s touched, including former
crime victims and colleagues. All credit him with empowering them to handle
everything life threw their way.
Judy Stephens, 60, of Rochester Hills served with McKinnon after they
graduated from the police academy. Sharing their early days in law
enforcement, Stephens recalls the time as “when there were only four women
in the academy class and female officers had to wear dresses and straw
Recounting her days with the 1st Precinct on Beaubien, she said, “We even
had to chase suspects down the street wearing high heels! But Ike always
Today, Ella Bully-Cummings heads the Detroit Police Department.
Bully-Cummings is Detroit’s first female police chief and a friend and
former colleague of McKinnon.
Even after retirement, McKinnon’s analytical abilities kick in when crime
occurs. He has already given thought to the 2004 fireworks shooting during
Detroit’s July 4th celebration. McKinnon is sure they will get the culprit.
“Very few people attend the fireworks alone,” said McKinnon. “That means
somebody had to have been with him and knows who did the shooting. People
will turn in their own mothers for a $10 reward.”
McKinnon remembered that the “magic number” for a reward during his tenure
“I remember a time when an announcement was made that the reward for a
suspect had just been upped to $5,000,” said McKinnon. “We were all gathered
in a room where the culprit actually was. As soon as the money was
mentioned, people began disappearing, anxious to get to a phone and turn him
Realizing what was happening, the suspect ran from the room, only to return
home and find police waiting for him. Someone had successfully turned the
suspect in for the $5,000.
McKinnon says the key to success in life is helping other people.
“On the whole, people are good people,” he said. “I always advise kids to
stand tall and be positive with life. And don’t do something in private
you’d be embarrassed about or not want your mom and dad to know about.”
McKinnon could need that advice if he was planning a political career, but
He said he’s done with politics.
“I’ve been asked to run for county executive and lieutenant governor, but I
said ‘no’,” said McKinnon. “I had my fill of politics as police chief.”