Detroit police look for answers to party shootings

George Hunter and Tom Greenwood

Detroit — After a second bloody weekend that saw multiple shooting deaths and injuries, including a 14-year-old boy at a large party, Detroit's police chief vowed to step up enforcement.

Shootings at parties where there have been more than 200 people have "become an increasing concern for us," Chief James Craig said during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters downtown.

"We're working on getting intelligence as to why it happened."

Five people were shot at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday at a gathering at a car wash at Gratiot and Whithorn. That followed a quadruple shooting at about 11 p.m. Saturday during a party near an apartment complex at Conner and Shoemaker.

The victims of both incidents were expected to recover, Craig said.

On June 20, 11 were shot at a block party on a basketball court at Webb and Dexter. A 19-year-old was killed.

Police have not received much cooperation from citizens in any of the three shootings, and no arrests have been made, Craig said.

"It's kind of a recent anomaly that we had three separate large-scale events and haven't gotten any information," he said.

The weekend's violence — in which there were 10 homicides and 20 non-fatal shootings — brought this year's homicide total to 139, up from 128 during the same period last year, but down from 150 in 2013. There have been 475 non-fatal shootings so far this year, up from 473 last year, and significantly lower than the 546 during the same period in 2013.

East-side resident Vaughn Arrington, president of the Pelkey Family Block Club, who noted there was a shooting down the street from his house this weekend in which a man shot a woman and her son, injuring them, said the violence shouldn't deter citizens from enjoying themselves.

"You cannot allow anything to disturb building a community," said Arrington, 33. "If you get intimidated, you have to get past that and become active in your community.

"You can't get scared and not come outside and enjoy your neighborhood. That's what the criminals want."

Craig said he will work with city officials to see if revamping the city ordinances governing block parties might help stem the violence, but he said that's not a priority.

"The ordinances do work," he said. "We have to be aware that there's going to be a block party. We encourage parties. We want neighbors to enjoy their neighborhoods. But the police department needs to be aware of it, because we do monitor those to make sure they're safe events.

Anyone who wants to hold a block party must inform the police precinct and get a permit. However, there are also large parties that take place without permits, and Craig said he doesn't want officers breaking those up if they're peaceful.

"This is a festive time of the year, and we're not going to be going through neighborhoods shutting down parties. That's just not feasible," he said. "Should we know there are parties going on? Absolutely, if for no other reason than to let the folks who are enjoying the festive time of the year know that we're there."

City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said while she wants to make it easier for citizens to apply for block party permits, revamping the ordinance would likely not have an effect.

"We can see if there are policies we can implement, but there's only so much you can do," said Sheffield, who passed a resolution earlier this month declaring June Gun Violence Awareness Month.

"It's the tone we need to change; the mindset as it relates to gun violence," she said. "Any time you have someone who will shoot into a crowd, that's the kind of senseless act that shows there's more work to be done."

Craig said officers did check out Sunday's party, for which no permit was issued, after hearing of the large gathering.

"At the time we were there, there were no issues," he said. "There's no way (the officers) could predict that someone was going to come in and engage in that level of violence."

It was unclear if Saturday's party was an official block party, or just a large gathering, Craig said.

Craig, who was criticized last week for calling the June 20 gunmen "urban terrorists," used the same term several times Monday to describe the shooters in the two most recent instances of party violence.

"To these urban terrorists, who are out committing these senseless acts of violence: We're going to disrupt what you're doing," he said. "That is a promise we're going to keep to this community."

After no credible tips came in about the June 20 shooting, Craig instructed narcotics officers to conduct 13 drug raids in the 10th Precinct, where the incident occurred.

"We felt that incident had a nexus to narcotics," he said. "Because of the enforcement effort, there was not one (violent) incident in the 10th Precinct (since the shooting). And yes, Detroit police did it without assistance from that community."

Police will use a different tactic to investigate the two most recent shootings, Craig said, although he said he didn't want to reveal details.

"The strategy we utilize for these is going to be different than what we did in the 10th Precinct," Craig said.

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