October 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Poll: Crime drives Detroiters out; 40% expect to leave within 5 years

Not safe in her neighborhood
Not safe in her neighborhood: Denai Croff fears for her safety and her children's safety

Detroit — Detroit's crime crisis is prompting such pessimism that 40 percent of residents plan to move within five years, according to a comprehensive poll of Detroiters' attitudes about their city and leadership.

Residents overwhelmingly believe the city is on the wrong track and have no faith that city leaders have a plan to turn it around. Crime is by far their biggest worry — even higher than finding a job in a city where some put the true unemployment rate as high as 50 percent.

The survey suggests that, unless city officials can combat violence, efforts to halt decades of decline will fail. The city's population already has fallen by 1 million over the past 50 years, and residents including Michael LaBlanc said they are ready to leave.

"There's an aura of fear that just pervades the whole neighborhood," said LaBlanc, 63, who installed a security system at his northeast side home last week because he's weary of car thieves and gunfire.

"It's almost like being in prison. We always like to have at least one person home for security sake."

The survey is believed to be the most authoritative of its kind in years. Commissioned by The Detroit News and funded by the Thompson Foundation, the survey provided a rare, statistically sound measure of public opinion. Detroiters have been traditionally difficult to accurately poll.

Eight hundred residents were surveyed by land and cellular phone Sept. 22-25 by the Chicago-based Glengariff Group Inc. The survey — which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points — asked residents' feelings about city leadership, schools, transportation, quality of life and overall optimism.

The results were stark — and despairing.

Nearly two-thirds, 66 percent, say the city is on the wrong track. The poll found low support for all city officials except Police Chief Ralph Godbee, who retired Monday amid a sex scandal that emerged after the survey was conducted.

The survey's author said crime is the biggest obstacle to stemming an exodus that has seen Detroit's population drop to about 700,000. The city lost a quarter of its residents from 2000 to 2010, an average of one every 22 minutes.

"Crime is the pre-eminent challenge facing the residents of Detroit," said pollster Richard Czuba, Glengariff's president. "That was a defining element of the survey. It's absolutely the driving factor.

"It shows a tremendous mindset of exodus. If you want people to stay, you have to deal with crime first. That's devastating for the future of the city and it needs to be dealt with."

Nearly 58 percent of respondents said crime is their "biggest daily challenge." That far surpassed unemployment and the economy at 12.8 percent.

The survey suggests that many residents who remain would like to leave but are stuck: More than half, 50.9 percent, say they would live in another city if they could, while 39.9 percent plan to move in the next five years.

LaBlanc has little confidence things will improve.

About a month ago, thieves stole his mother-in-law's 2004 Chrysler Sebring from their driveway. The thieves tried to get his 2003 Neon but failed, although they destroyed the steering column and transmission. Last week a stolen SUV showed up on blocks at the burned out house across the street.

"At night you can sit here and listen to the gunfire," said LaBlanc.

Police officials said the media make perception worse than reality. Violent crime is down 12 percent from 2010 to 2012 and police patrols have increased, said Deputy Chief Benjamin Lee.

He pointed to policies that put more officers on street patrols. Police no longer respond to burglar alarms unless security companies verify the need for officers. "Virtual precincts" close some precincts at night, freeing officers from desk jobs. And the department is partnering with the state Department of Corrections to better track recently released prisoners.

"The perception is there is lawlessness and that ordinary citizens aren't safe," Lee said. "The reality is … that violent crime is down."

Police Dept. faces challenges

The bleak attitude of residents comes amid an extraordinarily bad year for the Detroit Police Department.

Police union members, upset over 10 percent pay cuts in a city the FBI deems the second-most violent in the nation, handed out fliers Sunday to baseball fans near Comerica Park. They warned: "Enter Detroit at your own risk."

Homicides are up 10 percent this year to 298, and the city has endured a string of high-profile, brazen crimes that made international headlines, including the carjackings of gospel music star Marvin Winans and state Rep. Jimmy Womack.

Residents don't believe city leaders can change things.

Nearly two-thirds of residents, 63 percent, say city leaders have no plans for a turnaround. The poll found an "extraordinary lack of support" for elected officials including Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council, Czuba said.

"I don't see any forward movement," said Charles Wilson, a 62-year-old retiree, who added that high crime prompted him to get a concealed weapon permit and plan for an out-of-state move.

"I don't see the administration doing anything about it. I think they are asleep at the wheel," he said. "Where does this stop? Show me some milestones, give me some objectives. I don't see a strategy."

The downtown resident said he'd like to buy a new Corvette but doesn't want to make himself a target.

"It's difficult at best going out," said Wilson, who is concerned about recent violence including the August shooting at the Detroit Princess riverboat cruise. "You want to be able to dress the way you want to dress. You want to be able to go where you want to go. You don't want to be looking over your shoulder walking down the street. You just want to be at ease."

Income, safety divide

Perhaps more worrisome to city officials: 57 percent of those who plan to leave are families with children.

Safety fears are widespread, but greater among women and those making less money: 53 percent of women feel unsafe, compared to 43 percent of men. Fifty percent or more feel unsafe in households with incomes at $50,000 or below, compared to about one-third of those making $75,000 or more.

Demographer Kurt Metzger said the city is becoming a tale of "the best of times and worst of times." The media have focused on pockets of revival led by prosperous young people moving to Detroit, but many more thousands of residents lack the means to leave, Metzger said.

"It is glum," Metzger said. "The population of kids in Detroit is going down faster than the overall population. If you can provide a feeling of safety, it would go such a long way."

The Rev. Jerome Warfield, chairman of the Detroit Police Commission, said he hears "emotional appeals at almost every board meeting from citizens who are fed up with crime."

"People want a change," he said.

Wayne State University officials wanted change four years ago — and got it through a unique program that pools resources of nearby police agencies, analyzes real-time crime data and has helped make Midtown one of the city's most thriving neighborhoods.

The CompStat program, modeled after efforts in New York and Baltimore, attacks emerging crime trends, targets repeat offenders and has cut crime in the neighborhood by 38 percent, said Lyke Thompson, director of the university's Center for Urban Studies.

Since the program started, rents have soared, vacancies have dwindled and investments have skyrocketed.

"There's no question in my mind that the improvements in Midtown are because of the creation of a greater sense of security," said Thompson, who helps lead the effort.

"We can do this citywide if we get the right people in the room — and it's important because personal safety is the first priority."

Austin Black II, a Detroit real estate agent, said city leaders need to try to replicate Midtown's crime prevention successes.

"Detroit has a lot to offer people, but crime is a huge issue," Black said. "Something needs to be done and done fast.

"Whoever wins the election for mayor next year will be the person who best connects with the neighborhoods and offers a real solution to crime."

Gary Brown, the City Council president pro-tem, said the department has enough resources and should primarily focus on getting more patrol cars in neighborhoods.

"We have to start taking responsibility for our police department taking a stronger role in preventing crime," said Brown, a former deputy police chief. "If (residents) see a proactive approach, there wouldn't be this feeling of hopelessness."

Residents look past borders

In the meantime, residents like Denai Croff are making plans to leave.

The 44-year-old single mother of two is socking away $200 a month from her job at Gethsemane Cemetery to move to North Carolina.

She recently witnessed a carjacking near her duplex at Kelly and Morang and imposes a 9 p.m. curfew for her family most days. The windows have bars and she had her landlord install flood lights.

She lives next door to a memorial to a neighbor who was shot and killed last year, several months before Croff moved to the neighborhood.

"I just think Detroit is not happening right now," Croff said. "It's hard to come outside and even feel comfortable."

"The economy is bad everywhere, but the crime here has really gotten out of hand."

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2396

Detroit News Staff Writer George Hunter contributed.

Coming this week

Wednesday:
Detroit residents rate their elected leaders and their efforts to lead the city through its financial crisis.
The poll looks at the upcoming mayoral race, the consent decree and the pending deal with the state over the management of Belle Isle.
Thursday:
The poll looks at perceptions of the Detroit Public Schools district and its leaders, and how this reflects on the city students.

Detroit Police Inspector Dwane Blackmon talks to the media in May about the death of party store owner Faraj Dally, who was shot and killed as he was opening his store on the cityís west side. No arrests have been made. / John T. Greilick / The Detroit News
Residents held a Detroit Southwest Pride march against violence in ... (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
Detroit resident Denai Croff, with her daughter Sydnee Croff, 7, is a ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Patrick Harrison, right, of Armstrong Security in Livonia installs a ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)