Michigan redistricting meeting suspended after emailed death threat

Fed program credited for violence reduction in Detroit

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit has been a part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Reduction Network since it started in 2014. In just that short time, that collaboration has saved lives and brought millions of grant money to local law enforcement organizations, according to the DOJ.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade pointed Monday as part of a violence reduction summit to two successes in Detroit’s first year in the program: A 35 percent reduction in domestic violence-related homicides, and some $10 million in grant funding that area police organizations obtained for processing sexual assault kits, hiring police officers and acquiring body cameras for the Detroit Police Department.

But the Violence Reduction Network didn’t give away that grant money, McQuade said. It provided the training in grant writing that made those grants possible.

Detroit was an ideal candidate for the Violence Reduction Network, which was created to connect some of America’s most crime-troubled cities with training, technical assistance, and peer-to-peer networks that would empower those cities to become safer.

From 2008 to 2012, the city had almost five times the national average in violent crimes. It had more than 16 times the national gun homicide rate. This, despite having the state’s largest police department and a high presence of federal law enforcement nearby.

In its first year, Detroit was one of five cities in the network, along with Chicago, Camden, New Jersey, Wilmington, Delaware, Oakland/Richmond, California.

Monday morning, the DOJ announced it would be adding five new cities to the network: Flint, Compton, California, Newark, New Jersey, West Memphis, Arkansas, and Little Rock, Arkansas. That means McQuade has both Detroit and Flint under her purview in the Eastern District of Michigan.

Five more cities will be added in 2016, said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Karol Mason, and communities participate in the network for at least three years.

The DOJ’s by-invitation-only 2015 Violence Reduction Network Summit runs in Detroit from Monday to Wednesday this week. Its goal is both to foster peer-to-peer connections between law enforcement officials facing similar circumstances and “to provide information on the broad spectrum of DOJ resources available” to communities in the network.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who spoke briefly when the summit kicked off, told the media that homicides in Michigan’s largest city were flat, year-over-year, coming off a year, 2014, when Detroit had its lowest homicide rate in almost 40 years.

The city’s homicide clearance rate, which was at 11 percent when Craig joined the department in 2013, is now at the national average, Craig said. According to FBI figures, that’s about 62.5 percent. Robberies are down 35 percent compared to 2013, Craig said.

Craig called the Violence Reduction Network “another tool in the toolbox” in the efforts to make Detroit a safe city. Detroit is a city where 300-plus homicides per year has been the norm.

“There is a correlation between the poverty rate and crime,” Craig said.

Some 39 percent of Detroiters are below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“In many of our cities, it’s too easy to get a gun and too hard to get a job,” deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates said.

Flint, a new entrant to the network, was 573 percent above the national violent crime average from 2009 to 2013, according to the DOJ. It had a gun homicide rate some 1,738 percent above the national average.

Flint Police Chief James Tolbert, who came to Flint in October 2013 from the Detroit Police Department, said that while Flint has a “great relationship” with Michigan State Police, partaking in the Violence Reduction Network will connect the city to federal resources and training and other cities in the network facing the problems Flint has.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Tolbert said. “We’re taking those strategies and seeing how we can apply them.”

Kenton Buckner, police chief of Little Rock, Arkansas, which is new to the network, said that problems start at a young age in Little Rock. In a city of about 200,000 people, last year Little Rock had 1,200 juvenile arrests. Some 48 percent of those took place on school grounds.

Domestic violence is another problem. As Buckner explained, “domestic violence is tough to prevent, and it happens within a family’s four walls.”

But if Detroit’s success is any indication, DOJ resources will be a major help.

Detroit saw a 35 percent drop in domestic violence-related deaths just one year into joining the Violence Reduction Network. McQuade attributes that success to the training law enforcement officers received in January 2015 in High Point, North Carolina.

During that training, according to DOJ, Detroit police officers and staffers with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office learned “focused-deterrence strategies for domestic violence offenders and examined cast studies, implementation steps, and resources.”

There was also “targeted technical assistance” from the National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative.

When it comes to preventing domestic violence deaths, Mason said, “we know what works.”

Over the next several years, Flint and Little Rock and a still-growing number of communities will learn what works.