July 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

Detroit police chief gives credit to armed citizens for drop in crime

Craig (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit— Fed up with crime, some armed Detroiters have developed itchy trigger-fingers — and Police Chief James Craig said lawbreakers are getting the message.

In the latest incident, police say an 88-year-old who was beaten and robbed inside his east side home last week probably thought he was defending himself against attackers when he opened fire Monday on a television news crew.

On Thursday, a woman appeared on his front porch asking for help, and when he opened his door, two men rushed in, assaulted him and tied him up with a phone cord before robbing him of several items.

A reporter from Channel 2 (WJBK) knocked on the man’s door on Arndt Street Monday, and conducted a short interview, although the man, whose name was not released, would not open his door. After a crew from Channel 7 (WXYZ) came onto the man’s porch, he fired a single shot. No one was hurt, and the bullet lodged into a tree.

Police took the man into custody, where he is undergoing a psychological evaluation, Assistant Chief Steve Dolunt said.

“I think he was traumatized; he got beat up pretty good,” Dolunt said. “When the second reporter went onto his porch, he may have thought she was the woman who had tricked him, and he probably thought he was defending himself.”

Dolunt said police are investigating the matter, and it will be up to prosecutors to decide whether to bring charges.

The incident was the latest in a string of homeowners opening fire to defend themselves, although after a flurry of such shootings early this year, before Monday there hadn’t been a reported incident since May 4 — an indication that criminals are thinking twice about breaking into people’s houses, Craig said.

Detroit has experienced 37 percent fewer robberies in 2014 than during the same period last year, 22 percent fewer break-ins of businesses and homes, and 30 percent fewer carjackings. Craig attributed the drop to better police work and criminals being reluctant to prey on citizens who may be carrying guns.

“Criminals are getting the message that good Detroiters are armed and will use that weapon,” said Craig, who has repeatedly said he believes armed citizens deter crime. “I don’t want to take away from the good work our investigators are doing, but I think part of the drop in crime, and robberies in particular, is because criminals are thinking twice that citizens could be armed.

“I can’t say what specific percentage is caused by this, but there’s no question in my mind it has had an effect,” Craig said.

Craig made national news in January, when he told The Detroit News he believed armed citizens deter crime — an unusual stance for an urban police chief. In May, the chief was featured in an NRA publication, America’s 1st Freedom, in a cover story titled “A Show of Courage in Detroit,” in which Craig reiterated his support for citizens using guns to protect themselves.

Through the years, various studies have reached different conclusions on whether tighter gun laws equal less crime. A 2013 study by the American Journal of Public Health found that the states with the loosest restrictions on gun ownership had the highest gun death rates. But a 2007 Harvard University study found that banning guns would not have an effect on murder rates.

Josh Horwitz, director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington D.C., insisted citizens with guns don’t deter crime.

“Our position is, more guns equals more crime,” Horwitz said “These are complicated issues, but the empirical evidence shows the states with the lowest gun ownership and the tightest restrictions have the fewest instances of gun violence.

Detroit resident Al Woods, a self-described former criminal who is now an anti-violence advocate and author, agreed criminals are thinking twice about attacking citizens.

“If I was out there now robbing people these days, knowing there are a lot more people with guns, I know I’d have to rethink my game plan,” said Woods, 60.

Craig said he doesn’t believe gun ownership deters criminals from attacking other criminals. “They automatically assume another criminal is carrying,” he said. “I’m talking about criminals who are thinking of robbing a citizen; they’re less likely to do so if they think they might be armed.”

Bill Welborne, 80, a former Tuskegee Airman and Korean War veteran, said he agreed with Craig.

“I have a pistol and a shotgun,” said Welborne, who wasn’t home 15 years ago when burglars broke into his west side house and stole his coin collection. “Without a doubt, if my life is in danger, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot.”

ghunter@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2134