Ira Todd: The Real Cop Behind AMC's New Detroit Cop Show
Detroit cop Ira Todd is rolling through his old neighborhood on the city’s west side on his day off. He stops and points to a worn house once occupied by a thug nicknamed “Rev. Lowdown.”
“He was a protector in the neighborhood, “ Todd says. “He did a lot of wrong. He bought hot stuff from the neighborhood kids. He sold weed and his sons were like the big hoods in the neighborhood. But he wouldn’t let anybody come into the neighborhood and do wrong.”
Rev. Lowdown is dead. But his nickname -- and his character -- will come to life in an upcoming Detroit cop show on AMC, “Low Winter Sun” -- thanks to Todd, who is sharing with Hollywood writers and producers his decades-long experiences investigating violent crimes.
Todd, 55, is a part-time consultant for the show being shot on the streets of Detroit. From his decades on the Detroit police force to his dealings with all kinds of criminals to his childhood in tough neighborhoods, Todd has been able to provide rich details of personalities like “Rev. Lowdown” and help writers develop characters.
“He keeps it real and gives it a local flavor,” says producer Charles S. Carroll. “He explains how things work. He’s also helpful talking about how it affects his life. With Ira you get the truth. You don’t get all that macho bullshit.”
AMC has built a reputation for producing such critically acclaimed shows as “Madmen,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead.” It’s now betting that “Low Winter Sun” will join the hit parade.
The show began taping this week, after completing a pilot last fall. It premieres Aug. 11 at 10 p.m. Earlier this week, crews were frantically building a makeshift police station in its new studio at a warehouse on East Grand Boulevard next to the old Packard Plant.
Todd says he gets calls from the show’s writers at all times, including midnight. He says they’re asking about things like police protocol. Would the brass show up at a detective's funeral in a suit or dress blues? (Dress blues). What’s the street lingo for certain drugs these days? ("We got some weight?') How would a cynical veteran detective refer to a new rookie partner who acts like a hot dog? ("He's got a hot dog hanging out of his ass")
“They want to know, does this sound authentic? Would an officer do this?”
“I think I bring a different thing to the table for them,” says Todd, who partly grew up on 12th Street, not far from the blind pig that was ground zero for the 1967 riot. “In the past 30 years, I’ve worked as an undercover officer, done interrogations, been an instructor and a street detective. I can give them a real live street-cop perspective. And I still keep in touch with the street.”
Co-producer Ryan Farley, who is also a writer on the show, frequently talks to Todd and said the character “Rev. Lowdown” is expected to be regular character on the show. Besides character development, Farley said he relies on him for realism, everything from street lingo to figuring out the mindset of cops.
“He’s extremely helpful,” says Farley, who a Warren native now living in Los Angeles.
Todd is thrilled to be part of show. He’ll tell you as much. Part of that is his great affection for TV and what it meant to him growing up.
“One of the motivations for being involved in the show, to be honest, is because growing up poor, people don’t realize, television is how I saw things. We didn’t travel. You could see different places on television. Lucy moving to the suburbs. When you watched “Leave it to Beaver”.... For years I thought all white people people were rich."
Todd's entry into Hollywood came via a defense attorney, Jerome Barney, whom he befriended. Barney made some introductions for Todd, who then got hired as a consultant for the shortlived ABC cop show "Detroit 187," which lasted one season. That gig, in turn, helped him land a consulting job with "Low Winter Sun."
“I think Detroit 187 was a little more show biz,” says Todd. “I think this show is going to be more like ‘The Wire.’ We’re trying to keep it as real as possible.”
Todd was the fourth of six children, the oldest boy, and he was 9 when the riot broke out in July 1967. His neighborhood was smack in the middle of it.
“People were looting and everything,” he said. “I just remember that being a really scary time. We couldn’t go past the front porch or past the backyard once the tanks showed up. We were waving to the soldiers.”
Always Wanted to Be a Cop
He said he wanted to be cop at a young age.
“You loved cops,” he said. “You wanted to be a cop. We feared them and most of them were white. We’d see white cops come up. They told you to ‘take your ass home’ or something like that and you took your ass home.”
Todd went to work early, shining shoes at age 7 at Johnson’s Barbershop on 12th and Pilgrim. He later worked in a candy store and cleaned toilets at a factory.
He attended several local colleges, and eventually earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at Concordia University, a Christian college in Ann Arbor, and a master's degree from
Eastern Michigan University.
In 1984, he joined the Michigan State Police, and worked a security detail for then-governor James Blanchard.
“This is what I remember about Blanchard,' Todd said: "He read three or four newspapers a day. He had the cleanest skin I’ve ever seen. He was impersonal. He wouldn’t even speak to you. He wouldn’t even look at you. He just never acknowledged us. But I liked him. He never treated us bad.”
A year later, Todd jumped at the chance to become a Detroit cop, at first working patrol.
"I always wanted to be a Detroit cop," he said. "I always wanted to be a street cop."
A year later, he joined the gang squad. He garnered a reputation as a top-notch interrogator.
He wrangled confessions from killers, including a hit man who killed the legendary dope dealer Demetrius Holloway, who was gunned down in October 1990 at the Broadway clothing store downtown. Holloway had $14,000 in cash and a .32-caliber gun on him at the time.
Charged in Shooting
In 1993, Todd found himself in the news. He and his partner were charged with second-degree murder in connection with the shooting of an unarmed man in southwest Detroit.
Todd, then 36, said he and fellow officer Rico Hardy, 34, were rounding up suspected drug dealers, putting them up against the wall of a building. Suddenly, he recalls, a man began running at him, screaming, and then reaching into his jacket. Then he heard a gunshot. He wasn't sure where it came from. His partner started falling backwards. He didn't know what was going on.
Todd recounts how he jumped in front of his partner and opened fire, killing the man -- Jose Itturadle, 42 -- outside Ybarra’s Bario Lounge. He was unarmed. Todd later found out his partner's gun had discharged, hitting the dead man in the leg.
“You taste the gun powder. I never experienced that. My ears were ringing. And things seemed like they were in slow motion.
A year later, the case went to trial and he and his partnered were acquitted after the jury deliberated about two hours.
"Thank you, Jesus," he remembered saying.
Of the skills he has, he prides himself most on interrogating suspects.
“I'm one of the best,” he says with a smile.
Alex Chahine, an investigator for special operations for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, has watched Todd in action.
“He’s amazing. I was in the military for 10 years and I’ve seen interrogations, but this guy is the best of the best,” Chahine says. “I’ve seen some of the hardest criminals just cry like an 8-year-old girl. He can range from being the hardest cop to the nicest guy.”
Todd is proud of his record.
“In all, I’ve probably gotten 400 confessions in my career. For homicides, I’d say 20 to 30.”
Treating suspects with respect is one reason, he believes..
“I understand because I’m from the same place. I’m from the same street. I understand the guy who does stick-ups and then goes home. They’re still dads. They’re still uncles. I talk to them as human beings.”
“I still believe your sources, you don’t treat them like snitches, you treat them like sources, you treat them like friends.
"Some of my sources call and say 'I just got out of jail, I need a ride home.' I’ll go pick them up and drive them home.”
Todd hopes “Low Winter Sun” has a long run. When he’s not working, he loves to be the consultant, the go-to-guy for reality.
“I’m extremely fascinated by it. The whole business. It’s something different for me. They’re trying to understand our lives. I’m trying to understand their lives.”