Craig (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Violent crime was down in the city last year, exceeding the goal James Craig set when he became police chief in July, but he insisted Thursday he isn’t satisfied, which is why he’s replaced the head of the Homicide Section, and will roll out a new “plan of action” for fighting crime next week.
There were 333 criminal homicides in Detroit in 2013 — the same number as the city of New York, which has a population of 8.3 million compared with Detroit’s 700,000. Detroit saw a 14 percent reduction in homicides in 2013.
“We ended 2013 with the exact same number of homicides as New York,” Craig said during a press conference at Police Headquarters Thursday. “I’m not proud of this. We’re trending in the right direction, but we still have work to do.”
Justifiable homicides also dropped, from 25 in 2012 to 15 in 2013. Suicides dropped from 39 to 35.
When Craig became chief July 1, he set a “soft” goal of reducing crime by 5 percent.
“The department was able to exceed that goal reducing overall crime by 7 percent,” Craig said. “For 2014, we want to set a ... goal of a 10 percent reduction in overall crime.”
Craig continues to tweak the department’s command staff, recently reassigning Capt. Russell Solano, whom Craig appointed head of the Homicide Section in October, and naming Capt. Eric Decker as his replacement.
“I was very concerned we weren’t functioning in the manner we needed to,” Craig said. “I’m continuing to evaluate each member of this department until I’m satisfied.”
Assistant Chief Eric Jones added that prior to Craig’s arrival, homicide detectives weren’t properly communicating.
“This might be surprising to hear, but in a city like Detroit, which regularly leads the nation in homicides, the different squads weren’t talking to each other,” Jones said. He said the new leadership team has instituted daily briefings between the eight homicide squads.
Solano was moved to Decker’s former night command post.
Craig said the plan he will announce next week will put an emphasis on fighting crime in the city’s neighborhoods.
“We’re going to place neighborhoods and people first,” he said. “It was clear when I came in the door, there were problems. We had ‘virtual precincts,’ which is not a way to police a community.
“The plan of action is a comprehensive document which will provide an overview of the issues that need to be addressed within the department,” Craig said. “Many of the issues, we have already begun to address, such as flattening the command ranks, reorganizing the department and reinstituting the precinct model, based on what will be called ‘Neighborhood Police Stations.’ ”
One of Craig’s first moves upon becoming chief was to re-open police precincts 24 hours a day, rescinding former chief Ralph Godbee’s “virtual precinct” model, in which precincts closed at 4 pm.
In addition, Craig moved detectives back to the precincts, rather than having them in a centralized location, also a Godbee initiative. The move allows detectives to better understand the communities in which they work, Craig said.
One reason for the drop in crime, Craig said, was a stronger emphasis on COMPSTAT, which is a data-driven approach. Also, the new Tactical Response Unit has gotten guns off the street; the unit confiscated 17 illegal guns in its first two days of operation.
“When we stop someone with an illegal gun, we’ve probably stopped a robbery,” Craig said. “We’ve probably stopped a shooting.”
There were 976 guns confiscated during narcotics investigations alone in 2013, up from 764 in 2012 and 602 in 2011. Also, Detroit Police in 2013 executed 1,757 search warrants, up from 1,410 in 2012 and 978 in 2011.
Craig instituted a “stop and frisk” policy, similar to the one started in New York by the man Craig says is his mentor, William Bratton of the Bratton Group, which was brought in as a consultant to fix Detroit’s police department. Bratton heads the New York Police Department.
“We are a constitutional policing agency, which means we stop people legally,” Craig said.
In response to critics of the stop-and-frisk model, Craig said, “Would you prefer this police agency do nothing and not stop anyone? We do this ethically and legally. It’s based on reasonable suspicion: If we suspect someone is involved in criminal activity, we stop them. We don’t eradicate violence by doing nothing.”
East side resident Dorothea Walker said Craig is doing an “excellent job.”
“I think he’s doing fine so far,” she said, although she added that, while the overall crime numbers may be down, it’s difficult for her to see any change. “From the neighborhood standpoint, it seems to be about the same,” she said.
In addition to Craig’s objective of reducing crime by 10 percent, his goals for 2014 include moving the department in from 93 percent compliance with the federal consent decree to 100 percent; and increasing response time to life-threatening emergencies from the current 8 minutes to 5 minutes.
When Craig took over, the average response time was 58 minutes, but the chief changed the way response time is counted by starting the clock when a dispatcher assigns a run to police, rather than when the 911 call is first placed. He said that was the national standard for counting response times.
Craig also said he wants more homicides solved. In July, the homicide closure rate was 11 percent. “That’s embarrassing for this organization,” he said. That number wasn’t reflective of how many homicides were solved, Craig said, because detectives weren’t properly reporting when they’d closed a case.
“We looked at our reporting process, and that number shot up to 43 percent,” he said. “That’s still not good. It’s not acceptable. I’m setting a goal of 70 percent next year, and I know I’ll be held accountable if we don’t reach that.”
Craig gave his officers credit for the lower crime statistics.
“It’s no secret we’re a city in bankruptcy, and that our officers have endured pay cuts,” he said. “We have some of the lowest-paid police officers in the country — and they have the toughest job. There are local university police departments that pay more.
“Despite that, the men and women who wear this uniform continue to work hard,” Craig said. “We couldn’t have done this without them.”