Detroit — The constant murders, robberies and carjackings in the city haven’t discouraged some residents, community groups and police from trying to find solutions.
“The last thing we can afford to do is give up,” said Martin Jones, spokesman for the Detroit 300, a patrol group that’s scheduled to march with police officers from the 9th Precinct Wednesday. “These criminals need to see we’ve got men and women in this community who refuse to let them take over.”
The march, which begins at 6 p.m. at Gratiot and Lappin on the city’s east side, aims to “show solidarity between the Detroit Police Department and community groups and put the would-be criminals on notice that their behavior will no longer be accepted in our city,” according to a police press release. During the walk, citizens will be encouraged to sign up for Night Walk patrols.
“This collaboration with the Detroit 300 came after the senseless beating of Steve Utash,” said 9th Precinct Capt. Darwin Roche, referring to the motorist who made national headlines when a mob beat him after he exited his truck to check on the well-being of a 10-year-old boy who had darted into his truck’s path.
“We went door-to-door pleading for people to step forward and help us find who was responsible,” Roche said. “That helped us realize there are far more good people than bad people who want to help us. They want to enjoy their lives, and it’s just a small group of criminals who are driving fear. So we decided to have this march, to send a clear message that this criminal behavior will not be tolerated.”
Jones agreed it’s crucial the community bands together to fight back against criminals.
“We’ve got mayhem, murders, robberies and rapes out in the streets,” he said. “If nobody stands up and does anything at all, the criminals will feel they have an open field to do what they want. Enough of them feel like that now.”
Arthur Haggerty, an ex-convict who runs the Stop the Ongoing Violence Epidemic (STOVE) outreach program, said it’s difficult — but crucial — to change kids’ mindsets before they get too deep into the criminal lifestyle.
“You’ve got to change these kids’ thinking, but it’s hard to do,” said Haggerty, who spent 16 years in prison for manslaughter after he killed a drug dealer in 1974. “It’s not a new problem. You have kids who don’t know what they’re going to eat tonight, and they see the dope man driving a nice car and flashing money. There’s no jobs, so the kids in Detroit think the criminal lifestyle is more feasible than going to college.
“But I’ve been there; I know what it’s like to go to prison, and believe me, it’s not fun. I know I’m not going to reach all the kids, but I feel like I’ve got to do something, and maybe one day what I’m telling them might kick in.”
Since taking over the police department in July, Police Chief James Craig said he’s tried to balance aggressive crime-fighting with community policing. In addition to high-profile raids of apartment complexes and high-crime neighborhoods, he’s also established a squad of neighborhood police officers who patrol the city’s neighborhoods.
“You hear a lot of police departments talk about community policing and neighborhood policing, but it has no real teeth in it,” Craig said during a City Council meeting in March when he announced the program. “This is a model that I've been intimately involved in for all of my 37-year career, and it really is an effective and efficient way to build bridges in communities.”
The Skillman Foundation granted the department $75,000 to purchase smart-phones and tablets for the neighborhood officers, which allows them to file reports from the field and keep up on crime trends. The neighborhood officers focus on quality-of-life issues, such as problematic businesses like gas stations.
Detroit Police Capt. Aric Tosqui, commander of the 3rd Precinct, said it’s crucial for police to get to know the communities they patrol.
“There’s just no way we can do it on our own,” said Tosqui, who hosts weekly “Coffee with the Captain” meetings, which give community members an opportunity to talk to him and other precinct officers about what’s going on in their neighborhoods. “The citizens have to be confident they can come talk to us. There are hurdles we have to overcome.”
Debra Walker, a resident of Tosqui’s precinct, said she appreciates the effort.
“More people need to get involved in what’s happening in their communities, and that means getting involved with the police,” Walker said. “We have to help the police and be their eyes and ears.”
Jones said he realizes the efforts to find solutions to crime won’t be 100 percent successful.
“That would be a perfect world, and we don’t live in a perfect world,” he said. “But we have to work toward that. What else are we going to do — just give up? That’s not acceptable.”