Detroit ranks as 2nd most violent big city


Detroit dropped to the nation’s second most violent big city last year, while violent crime in the city's suburbs rose in some communities and fell in others, according to FBI crime data released Monday.

A five-year look at violent crime trends shows steep decreases in some communities, while others had sharp increases.

Murders in Detroit were down to 267 in 2017 from 303 the previous year, according to the FBI's 2017 Uniform Crime Report. But the overall number of violent crimes increased slightly.  

In 2017, 13,796 violent crimes were reported — murder, rape, assault and robbery — in the city compared with 13,705 in 2016, the FBI reported.

Detroit's rate of 2,057 violent crimes per 100,000 people placed it second-highest among cities with more than 100,000 residents, below St. Louis and above Baltimore, Memphis and Kansas City.

Violent crime in Flint increased by 22 percent last year to 1,879 crimes, which as a rate ranked it sixth nationally among cities with more than 50,000 residents. Murders in the city were down from 45 in 2016 to 37 last year, according to the report. 

In 2016, Detroit's violent crime rate was the highest of the nation's big cities.

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"We're making progress, but our work continues," Detroit police chief James Craig said. 

Craig said 2017 crime statistics are more stable than earlier stats compiled by the old CRISNET system. In December 2016, the department began using a new $9 million system, Superion, which officials say is more accurate. 

"The Michigan State Police section that tracks crime data acknowledged our data control unit," Craig said. "I argued before that we had an antiquated system that didn't (properly track crimes). Now we have the right system in place."

Craig added crime so far in 2018 continues trending downward.

"As of (Monday), we're down 10 homicides compared to last year, a 5 percent reduction — and remember, last year we had the lowest number of homicides in 50 years," Craig said. "Nonfatal shootings are down by 74, a 12 percent reduction. Property crime is down 10 percent; and part one crimes are down 8 percent, which exceeds the goal of 5 percent we set at the beginning of the year."

While most violent crimes in Detroit saw reductions from 2016-17, sexual assaults spiked from 579 to 697. Deputy Chief David LeValley said a new reporting method has caused it to appear there was a spike in sexual assaults.

“We get reports where there are unknown offenders; reports with known offenders, such as date rape; and then we get reports in the Law Enforcement Notification system, which come in from schools and social workers,” LeValley said. “When they suspect an assault took place, they have an obligation to report that to police.

“Those reports used to go into the record management system as ‘other,’ but then we started putting them in as the crime as they were reported,” LeValley said. “That’s a better way to report them, although it looks like there are more sex assaults, although we actually have received fewer reports.”

The nation's highest murder rate in 2017 was in St. Louis, with 205 murders, a rate of 66 per 100,000 people, followed by Baltimore, with 342 murders and a rate of 56 per 100,000. Detroit was No. 3, recording 40 murders per 100,000 residents.

Nationally, the number of violent crimes decreased 0.2 percent in 2017.

Detroit's suburbs saw mixed results from 2016 to 2017. In Pontiac, violent crime dropped from 749 reported crimes to 644, while Dearborn dropped from 348 to 256. The five-year trend shows Dearborn had a 26 percent decrease in violent crime. Pontiac did not report crime statistics for all five years, so a comparison over that time period is unavailable. 

Violent crime in Romulus jumped from 169 to 210 from 2016 to 2017 — which longtime resident Charles Miller attributed to several factors, including a scandal that ended in 2014 with the former police chief convicted of corruption, with other officers pleading guilty to various crimes.

"A lot of people lost confidence in the police department after that," said Miller, 75, a former city councilman who has lived in Romulus since 1946.

Romulus Public Safety Director Jadie Settles disputed Miller's claim.

"That is totally false," he said. "We’ve turned the image of the Romulus Police Department completely around since that incident; we've hired new officers, instituted diversity training. We get a lot of support from the community."

Over the past five years, violent crime in Romulus jumped 52 percent. 

Romulus Police Capt. Josh Monte said most of the increase in violent crime during that period came from domestic violence incidents.

"We got 51 reported assaults (in 2017), with 90 percent of those being domestic violence related," he said, adding there isn't much police can do to quell instances of domestic violence.

Monte said police have made a huge dent in sexual assaults in recent years.

"We narrowed it down to hotel rooms," he said. "We've got 32 hotels in the city and we tracked a lot of the sexual assaults to the hotels. So we assigned someone to a human trafficking task force, and we went from 28 reported CSCs (criminal sexual conduct) in 2016 to 12 in 2017."

Settles said crime in group homes also has driven up the numbers. "We have approximately 48 group homes, with 6-7 people living in them," he said. "We get a lot of calls where the staff reports being assaulted by residents. That also has an impact on the numbers."

Romulus City Council member Virginia Williams complained police are "hiding" information about crime.

"The problem is, they're keeping a lot of things under wraps," she said. "City council is supposed to be the checks and balances, but how can we do that if the police won't give us information about crime? I've asked for information."

Melvindale saw violent crime spike 88 percent over the past five years. Phone calls to the police department were not returned Monday, while the mayor's office declined to comment.

In Harper Woods, violent crime fell by 39 percent over the past five years, which Public Safety Director James Burke attributed to more tips from the community.

"We've been on an 11-12 year downward trend in crime," he said. "Then, it got even better when we put an emphasis on working closer with the community 5-6 years ago. We did town hall meetings and met with community groups. That's paid off, because our residents are willing to call us when they see something suspicious. 

"That's probably the biggest factor, because when people call us, we're able to catch people shortly after they've committed a crime, or prevent it," Burke said. "There are other factors, though. I've got a great command staff that has instilled a culture of hard work, and our patrol officers do a great job.

"Also, task forces across the border in Detroit have done a lot of work toward stopping gangs, and that's also had some effect in Harper Woods," Burke said.

Burke said crime at Eastland Mall "hasn't been a factor in several years," but added that lower traffic at the struggling shopping center, resulting from store closings in recent years, also has helped drive down crime numbers. 

Harper Woods resident Charles Flanagan, a former Detroit police lieutenant, said he isn't surprised crime is down.

"We've got a great police chief and deputy chief, and a lot of the police force are seasoned ex-Detroit cops," Flanagan said. "So it doesn't surprise me at all."

Dearborn saw a 26 percent reduction in violent crime over the past five years. Police chief Ronald Haddad said there are "a number of things driving that."

"We have a predictive analysis tool we use, which picks up crime trends," he said. "We've also stepped up our investigative methods with high-end technology, although I don't want to give too many details about that. But it's helped us identify serial suspects sooner rather than later.

"We've also been very fortunate because citizens are reporting crime and being good witnesses when we need them," Haddad said. "Also, the men and women of this department have been catching a lot of felons with warrants during traffic stops."

Haddad said last year, Dearborn traffic officers arrested more than 300 felons with outstanding warrants, and more than 500 this year. 

"These are people who were arrested before they got a chance to commit crimes in our city," Haddad said.

Ten most violent big cities nationwide  

Here's a listing of the highest violent crime rates per 100,000 people

St. Louis 2,082  

Detroit 2,057  

Baltimore 2,027  

Memphis 2,003  

Kansas City 1,724  

Little Rock 1,634  

Milwaukee 1,597  

Rockford 1,588  

Cleveland 1,557  

Stockton 1,415  

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report

Violent crime in selected Michigan communities

The FBI reported these one-year changes in violent crimes reported: 

Grand Rapids: Up 6 percent,
from 1,327 to 1,408.

Warren: Down 1.4 percent,
from 691 to 681.

Sterling Heights: Up 1.2 percent,
from 242 to 245.

Ann Arbor: Up 21.6 percent,
from 213 to 259.

Lansing: Down 1.5 percent,
from 1,341 to 1,321.

Clinton Township: Up 13.2 percent,
from 326 to 369.

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report