August 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

Detroit police: Homicide pace lowest in decades

Detroit Police Chief James Craig is at the scene of a killing last week. Through August, 189 homicides were reported in Detroit. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

Detroit— Despite three fatal shootings over the weekend, Detroit Police officials say it’s possible the year will end with fewer than 300 homicides for the first time in nearly a half-century.

Through August, there were 189 reported homicides in the city this year, a drop of about 14 percent over the same period in 2013, when Detroit recorded fewer than 350 homicides for only the fourth time in the past 40 years.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he expects the trend to continue.

“We’re hoping we don’t hit the 300 mark for 2014,” Craig said at Thursday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting. “That would be historic, to not have 300 homicides. ... July and August are typically our toughest months because of the heat, so unless we have an Indian summer, I think the number of shootings will diminish.”

The last time the city had fewer than 300 criminal homicides was 1967, when there were 281, according to FBI statistics. It came close in 2010, when the city ended the year with 308 homicides.

While the number of homicides has dwindled, so has the city’s population, which is now about 700,000. 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.” The homicide rate in 2013 dropped to 47.4.

Still, if the city were to fall below the 300 mark in homicides, it would be a milestone for a city that has been fighting the image as one of America’s most violent cities for decades.

Detroit ranked third in a list earlier this year by CNN, based on FBI statistics. First on the list was Camden, New Jersey; followed by Flint; Detroit; Oakland, California; St. Louis; Cleveland; Gary, Indiana; Newark, New Jersey; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Falling below 300 homicides for the year would represent a significant achievement, Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said.

“It’s not just one thing leading to these lower numbers; there are several factors at work,” Woody said, adding a focus on crime “hot spots” through the department’s COMPSTAT program, along with stronger ties to the community have helped lower the city’s crime rate.

“Who would have thought if you have a relationship with the community, that would help solve crimes? I ask that question facetiously, but it’s true,” Woody said. “People are talking to us more now, and that’s helping get these criminals off the streets.”

Assistant Police Chief Steve Dolunt said a few criminals are causing the most havoc.

“About 10 percent of the people are committing 90 percent of the crimes,” Dolunt said during a presentation to the Board of Police Commissioners.

Craig said violent crime is down 9 percent this year over the same period in 2013, with a 14 percent drop in non-fatal shootings. However, one area that has increased this year is justifiable homicides, with 20 so far in 2014, up from 14 during the same period last year.

There were at least three fatal shootings over the weekend, including two teenagers whose identities were unknown, who were killed after a man pushed them out of a car; and a 23-year-old man who was shot to death at the Smith Homes public housing project Saturday night.

A witness phoned police at about 3:40 a.m. Sunday to report seeing a man stop in the 15800 block of Stoepel, near Livernois and the Lodge Freeway, and force two people from the car, Detroit Police Officer Adam Madera said.

“After they were forced from the vehicle, the witness reported hearing four gunshots,” he said. “When officers arrived, they found two unknown teens, a male and female, lying in the street with multiple gunshot wounds. They were pronounced dead at the scene.”

Madera said police don’t know the ages or identities of the two victims.

In the Smith Homes incident, which happened about 10:58 p.m. in the 14200 block of Crescent Drive, a second 23-year-old man was pistol-whipped. He was taken to an area hospital, where his condition was listed as stable. The circumstances leading up to that incident are unknown, police said.

The incidents follow multiple shootings in the city last week, including a triple shooting at about midnight Friday in the 14500 block of Robson near Grand River and Greenfield, which left one dead; and three shootings on the east side Thursday and Friday that killed one and wounded six others.

Police have done a better job of solving homicides, Woody said. “The national average for solved cases is about 60 percent, and we’re at about 66 percent now,” he said.

Major Rush, whose 18-year-old daughter LaTasha Cheatum was killed in a June 2010 drive-by shooting, said there’s still work to be done. The murder of his daughter, who was eight weeks pregnant when she was shot while driving on eastbound Interstate 96, has never been solved.

“Technology is changing, and a lot of these criminals just aren’t very smart,” said Rush, 52. “They’ll walk right into a CVS (drug store) and rob it without wearing masks, knowing there are cameras that will show their faces. So I think a lot of them are getting caught before they can kill someone.

“But I think the police could do better at solving these murders. I try to call the detectives to get an update on my daughter’s case, and I can’t ever get anyone on the phone.

“This has been the roughest four years of my life.”

ghunter@detroitnews.com
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