December 21, 2013 at 1:00 am
Homicides in Detroit decline
- George Hunter and Holly Fournier
- The Detroit News
Detroit— Amid major changes in the way Detroit Police operate, violent crime has dropped significantly so far in 2013, with the city on pace to record fewer than 350 homicides for only the fourth time in 30 years, according to department data released Friday.
Despite the lower numbers, police officials and residents say they’re still not satisfied with the rampant crime that makes Detroit one of the most dangerous cities in the country.
As of Friday, there were 315 homicides in Detroit — 60 fewer than the same period in 2012, a 16 percent drop. The total excludes justifiable homicides. Non-fatal shootings were down 7.6 percent during that time, with 88 fewer incidents than last year.
The city has recorded fewer than 350 criminal homicides only three other times since 1983: In 2008, 2010 and 2011, although the high totals in previous years came when the city’s population was far higher than the current 700,000.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, which also counts homicides, has not released its 2013 figures.
In terms of the homicide rate per 100,000 residents, last year saw a 20-year high of about 54.6, roughly the same as in 1974, when Detroit recorded 714 homicides and became known as the “Murder Capital.” This year’s homicide rate so far has dropped to 45 per 100,000 residents.
Flint led the nation last year with a homicide rate of 62 per 100,000 residents. Of cities over 200,000, New Orleans was a close second to Detroit last year with 53.2 murders per 100,000 residents.
When Police Chief James Craig assumed command of the police department on July 1, there were 14 fewer homicides than during the same period in 2012, while shootings were up by 22. Craig said he believes his data-driven approach to crime-fighting helped spur the turnaround, but insisted the numbers are still too high.
“I’m not satisfied,” he said. “We need to do better, but we’re trending in the right direction. We want to reduce crime, but we also want to reduce the fear of crime.”
Southwest Detroit resident Janet Nicoletti, a 60-year-old retired protective service worker, agreed more needs to be done.
“We’re seeing a few more police cars than we used to, but as far as lowering the crime, I haven’t seen any real change around here,” she said. “Not yet.”
During his first six months on the job, Craig has received high marks from union officials and rank-and-file officers for helping restore some measure of morale to a police force that’s been battered by pay and benefit cuts and the threat of having pensions slashed. His aggressive method of crime-fighting, meanwhile, has garnered both supporters and critics.
With the help of The Manhattan Institute and the Bratton Group, consultants hired to help shape policy, Craig revamped the department after taking over as chief. In addition to restructuring the command staff, he put a heavy emphasis on COMPSTAT, the data-driven approach that holds precinct captains accountable for crime in their areas of responsibility.
Detroit’s COMPSTAT computer system, set up by Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies, gives every officer access to details about crimes, including when and where they occurred, and the names, addresses, phone numbers and criminal histories of witnesses and suspects.
Each Wednesday, police brass gather for a COMPSTAT meeting, where precinct captains and detectives are grilled about crime trends.
“It’s a great tool for accountability, because everyone is expected to know what’s happening in their areas, and they have to show what they’re doing to address the problems,” said Capt. Aric Tosqui, who runs the COMPSTAT system.
Proactive or profiling?
As part of COMPSTAT, Craig has put an emphasis on proactive policing, which includes the stop-and-frisk model credited with significantly lowering New York’s crime rate.
The practice has been controversial. In August, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin found that New York City’s stop-and-frisk tactics were unconstitutional because they led to racial profiling. The judge imposed remedies that included the appointment of a monitor. But in October, a federal appeals court blocked her ruling and said she hadn’t been impartial in her findings.
Dawud Walid, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan, expressed concern about the stop-and-frisk policy implemented in Detroit.
“Detroit has a serious crime problem, and I’m glad he’s reaching out to the community, but we still have concerns about the way he’s focusing on so-called ‘hot spots,’ and people who they say look suspicious,” Walid said. “That lends itself to people being profiled — and profiling people with a certain look or in a certain age demographic doesn’t build community trust, nor does it make our community any safer.”
Craig insists his officers don’t stop anyone without good reason.
“We practice constitutional policing,” he said.
One part of the proactive policing model is Operation Restore Order, in which officers hone in on felons with outstanding warrants. As part of that effort, police have conducted high-profile raids, dubbed “Super 6,” on some of the city’s highest-crime areas.
The Colony Arms Apartments, the target of a Nov. 15 raid, had more than 600 calls for police service in 2013; the Martin Luther King Apartments, targeted on Dec. 3, had been the home to several shootings, murders and open drug-dealing, and a 1.6-square-mile area near Quincy and Clairmont on the city’s west side, which was targeted Tuesday, had been the site of 27 shootings this year.
“This should be a message to the (criminals) who want to do business in the city of Detroit,” Craig said during the most recent raid. “We don’t want you here.”
Roland Lawrence, chairman of the Justice for Aiyana Jones Committee, said the raids are overly aggressive.
“Raids like these produced the May, 2011, police killing of 7-year old Aiyana Jones,” Lawrence said of the incident that made national headlines.
“These raids are nothing more than a display of egotism by the police.”
When asked if the publicized raids were stunts, Craig said: “A stunt? It’s no stunt. The data tells the story. Overall, the crime is down in the city. This reduction is going to be sustainable.
“The residents (are) tired of this. The only thing I don’t understand is why this wasn’t done a long time ago.”