Detroit's new police chief, James Craig, has pledged to reduce crime through a number of initiatives. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Detroit— Homicides in Detroit followed a national trend by dropping significantly in 2013, but it was still a bloody year in one of the country’s most violent cities.
The year saw high-profile unsolved cases that included a mass shooting at a barbershop and the killing of a Wayne State University law student, along with dozens of murders that didn’t make headlines.
According to numbers released by Detroit Police, there were 332 criminal homicides in the city in 2013 as of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, a drop of 54, or 13.9 percent, from the previous year’s 386. That total doesn’t include justifiable homicides.
“The number of justifiable homicides isn’t readily available at this time,” Detroit Police 3rd Deputy Chief Rodney Johnson said Tuesday, adding that police officials are planning a press conference to discuss final 2013 crime numbers.
In 2012, there were 25 homicides deemed justifiable in Detroit.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, which tallies both justifiable and criminal homicides, has not released its 2013 figures.
The drop means Detroit had fewer than 350 criminal homicides for only the fourth time in at least 30 years, although the current population of 700,000 is far less than in previous years.
The homicide rate per 100,000 residents is a more accurate indicator of the impact on a city. In 2012, the rate hit 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.” Last year’s homicide rate dropped to 47.4.
Although overall national figures for 2013 are not yet available, homicides dropped in several communities across the United States.
In Flint, which led the nation in 2012 with a homicide rate of 62, there were 52 homicides as of Monday — the lowest number since 2009 — in the city of about 100,000 residents.
Of cities over 200,000 people, New Orleans was a close second to Detroit in 2012 with a 53.2 homicide rate, although in 2013, the city also saw a drop: from 193 homicides in 2012 to 155 in 2013, for a rate of 45.
Homicides in New York City fell from 417 in 2012 to 333 in 2013 as of Monday, for a rate of about 4 per 100,000; while Chicago had 412 homicides as of Tuesday, a sharp fall off from the 532 homicides recorded in 2012. Chicago’s homicide rate in 2013 was about 15.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said his data-driven approach to crime-fighting has helped lower violent crime.
“These numbers are not an accident,” he said.
When Craig assumed command of the department on July 1, the homicide numbers already were trending downward, with 153 homicides during the first six months of the year, a drop of 8.4 percent from 2012, when there were 167 homicides over the same period.
Under Craig’s watch during the final six months of 2013, homicides fell 18.2 percent from the same period in 2012.
Despite the drop, Craig has repeatedly said he’s not satisfied with Detroit’s high crime rate, and said he wants more killings solved.
Department officials said they cleared 51 percent of the homicides in 2013, up from 42 percent in 2012. Craig has set a goal of 70 percent. In 2012, of the agencies nationally that report to the FBI, the clearance rate was 62.5 percent.
In an effort to solve more killings, cases are now assigned to the detectives best-suited for them, Craig said.
“We no longer randomly assign cases,” he said.
The Homicide Section recently got an influx of detectives, and former Police Chief Chester Logan moved the investigations of nonfatal shootings to homicide cops. That gives detectives a better understanding of who’s feuding with whom, and allows them to have a head start on the investigation if there is a retaliation shooting.
Among the unsolved homicides in 2013 were high-profile cases like the Nov. 6 shooting at Al’s Place Barber Shop, a known gambling hangout on the city’s east side, which left three dead and six others wounded; and the death of Tiane Brown, a 33-year-old Wayne State University law student whose body was found Oct. 30, still strapped in the seat belt in her SUV.
But for every unsolved murder that captured the media’s attention, there were several others that didn’t get as much notice, including the killing of LeRonn Walker, 20, who was one of two people found dead Dec. 19 inside a house on Hereford Street on the city’s east side.
“Whoever did this is still out there,” said the victim’s mother, Juana Torres. “We’re still trying to get justice. I’ve been doing my own investigation; I’m not going to let this just turn into a cold case.”
Also unsolved was the slaying of Tyesha Washpun, who was killed June 24 — her 26th birthday — when a gray Pontiac rear-ended the minivan she was driving along eastbound I-96 near Schaefer, sending both vehicles into the median wall. Because the incident happened on the freeway, that investigation is being handled by Michigan State Police.
“I haven’t heard anything,” said the victim’s father, Neil Major. “I’ve been hollering and screaming, but all I get is the runaround. I’m not getting any results. It’s frustrating — this is my daughter. It’s been seven months, and there are still no answers.”