WSU police's reach helps cut into Midtown crime

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Soon after Wayne State Police Sgt. Collin Rose was fatally shot near campus, officers knocked on the door of Aliou Sow, who lives in an apartment building across the street from where the tragedy occurred.

Sow, 45, told police he heard noises outside, about a mile from Wayne State University, but he thought they were from firecrackers — not a gun.

Sow said he was not surprised to see WSU police since he sees the university’s police officers patrol his neighborhood, where there are a few houses, empty lots and a makeshift memorial for Rose.

“They take care of business,” Sow said. “Campus is not far from here. If this place is safe, campus is safe, too. Because we are right next door. So it makes sense for them to come all the way here.”

The WSU Police Department, positioned in the heart of Detroit, could be known as the Midtown Detroit Police because its officers patrol the campus and several miles beyond.

Its expanded presence comes after campus police made an unusual move eight years ago to collaborate with the WSU Center for Urban Studies, Detroit Police Department and public safety officials from several Midtown institutions for combined crime prevention with data-driven policing.

As a result, Midtown crime has plummeted while development has exploded and many residents and businesses look first to Wayne State Police when they need protection.

“577-2222, I’ve got the number memorized” said Ryan Budek, a Midtown property owner with rentals. “I’ve always known if I call them, they’d be on my doorstep before I got off the phone.”

Last month, for the first time since it formed in 1966, the Wayne State police endured the death of one of its own in the line of duty. Rose was fatally shot in the head while doing follow-up work in Woodbridge Estates, a neighborhood more than a mile southwest of campus. Police arrested an initial suspect, but he was freed after charges were dropped while the investigation continues.

The incident has shaken the community surrounding Wayne State. Long known as the legendary but blighted and crime-laden Cass Corridor, the region now known as Midtown has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in tandem with many community efforts — including the one started with Wayne State police to drive down crime.

The university police initiative began during the early 2000s when Midtown leaders called on WSU, along with anchors Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Medical Center to bring 15,000 people to Midtown by 2015 to live, work and patronize the restaurants, cultural institutions, businesses and other amenities, said WSU Police Chief Anthony Holt.

The Hudson-Webber Foundation, which was part of the 15X15 Initiative, is still awaiting data for 2015. But Melanca Clark, president and CEO, said she feels meaningful progress was made toward the 15,000 target despite the dire economic circumstances that occurred nationwide after the initiative was launched, the effects of which were felt particularly hard in Detroit.

At the time, a survey showed the top reason residents were apprehensive about the region was the perception it was unsafe, Holt said. Then-WSU President Irvin Reid called on the Wayne State Police Department to address the issue.

Though Holt said Wayne State police have always patrolled beyond the campus, Reid’s charge went farther.

“To me, it was an assignment, a calling to come up with a plan to make a difference,” Holt said. “When the area is safer and more people move in, everybody benefits.”

Eight years later, the collaboration known as the Midtown Compstat has led to a 54 percent decrease overall in crime in Midtown between 2008-15, and a 68 percent drop in robberies, larcenies and auto thefts.

Wayne State police’s perseverance won’t waver even after the tragic loss of Rose, Holt added.

“The community depends on us being out there,” he said.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said it’s fine many in the area think of Wayne State police first when they need help, and acknowledged campus police may have a faster response time since they have so many officers in the area.

“... We support an additional set of eyes and ears. They do a great job. They have great relationships in the community. They’re respected, and both the (DPD) 3rd precinct and Wayne State work very closely,” Craig said.

But he added it’s the Detroit police who investigate major crimes — as it as in Rose’s shooting.

“When I came in three years ago, there was a lot of conversation about the fact that Detroit did not necessarily respond to all calls,” Craig said. “That’s not the case today. We have relationships in our community, including that community. We are a full-service police agency. We do follow up investigations. And God forbid, if there is an active shooter on the campus of Wayne State, it will be the Detroit Police Department that will come in with its special response team and mitigate that threat. ”

‘Total team approach’

Wayne State police’s efforts come as Midtown is in the midst of a revival with swanky restaurants, boutiques, condominiums, Pilates and yoga studios, bookstores, art galleries and special community events such as the recent holiday celebration, Noel Night.

Sue Mosey, president of Midtown Detroit Inc., said Midtown is flourishing for many reasons, including the work of her organization, which has developed housing, businesses and more.

“Wayne State police is certainly one of the central reasons,” Mosey said. “Having a neighborhood that people perceive as safe is important.”

Holt stressed it’s a collaboration aimed at improving Detroit for university students and residents. Of the 996 arrests made in the Midtown area last year, 567 were made by Wayne State police. The remaining 429 were made by Detroit police.

“It’s a total team approach,” Holt said. “It’s been very effective. You can see the growth of Midtown. It validates the growth and how safe students feel on campus. ... But the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life in the community.”

Compstat data key

Wayne State Police Department was formed 50 years ago, and today includes 60 sworn and commissioned officers, who start at $46,033 to $60,434, depending on experience. All are required to have bachelor’s degrees and about 75 percent also have master’s degrees. This differs from Detroit police officers, who need only a high school diploma or GED, and earn a starting salary of $34,000.

Many residents say Wayne State police has long been the security they turn to when they need help. They are fast — police officers strive to arrive within 90 seconds of an emergency call and not exceed four minutes for non-emergencies, Holt said. Their actual response time is no more than four minutes.

During the past year, Detroit police’s average response time has been 14.52 minutes; the industry average nationally is 5-6 minutes, DPD spokesman Sgt. Michael Woody said. But Detroit police respond to 3,000 calls daily in 116 square miles — far more than Wayne State’s 120 daily calls, Woody said.

Wayne State police also do prevention work, outreach to businesses and work with communities to fight crime.

But driving the drop in crime for the past eight years is the Midtown Compstat. Based on a model pioneered by the New York City Police Department, the compstat uses data from a 4.5-square-mile perimeter around campus that Wayne State officers patrol, which includes where Rose was fatally shot. With analysis from the WSU Center for Urban Studies, the campus police and university use the data to track crime reports, plot incidents on maps and zero in on patterns so decisions can be made how to eliminate “hot spots” of criminal activity.

Increasing patrols of a neighborhood is an option, but Holt said sometimes that moves criminals from one place to another. So Wayne State uses numerous other strategies, such as surveillance from four monitors inside its police headquarters that record activity on campus and around the area with more than 1,000 security cameras. Other times, it may use a bait car to attract criminals whom they later arrest.

A few years ago, Wayne State police had a rash of cellphones stolen from people’s hands by someone on a bike or after victims were asked to lend their phones to make emergency calls.

Officials plotted the places and times of the incidents, then went to a corrections officer who is embedded with Wayne State police and asked for a cross-check with people on tethers. The officer identified a person wearing a tether who was within a few feet of all the incidents. Police set up surveillance, witnessed a theft and made an arrest. A search warrant led to finding more evidence inside the individual’s home.

“We try a variety of things depending on what the data shows us,” Holt said. “I don’t want to move (the criminals) from here to downtown. The idea is to solve the problem. Solve the issue. The same people who commit crime on the east side, downtown and the west side, they are the same group that will come to the campus area.”

When Rose was shot, he was in a neighborhood with a recent uptick in the theft of seven navigation systems from vehicles the week before. Two arrests had been made the previous night. However, Holt said Rose was not doing follow-up work in the area, where officers and students live and Wayne State police often patrol.

“It was a perfect storm of things that went bad,” said David Martin, program director for WSU’s Center for Urban Studies. “That area has been a hotspot this year ... of crime and drugs and homeless colliding with major gentrification of people moving into Midtown. That area is being squeezed.”

Idea catches on

Many university campus police forces across the nation are using data-driven policing and patrolling beyond campus, said Sue Riseling, executive director of The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

“Over the last decade as city resources get tighter and the campuses are finding that people feel less than safe in some areas, the campus police make an agreement with the city police and they start to branch out beyond the campus … so there is a continuity of law enforcement,” Riseling said. “Usually, crime has decreased.”

At Wayne State, the efforts are working — and attracting the attention of others. Officials from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Eastern Michigan University have observed the WSU program, along with two local police departments. Additionally, a new state law allows University of Detroit Mercy’s police force to extend its patrol off campus.

UDM had been lobbying for this change for nearly a decade, and while it came around Rose’s death, the university will not change its course.

“When you go into law enforcement, the men and women who put on their uniforms know there are risks,” said Letitia Williams, UDM chief and director of public safety. “Our hearts were saddened and we grieved and mourned (over Rose), but that doesn’t change our interest because the risk is always there. We will move forward to keep our community safe.”

Daniel Allen, Detroit Medical Center police authority supervisor, said crime-fighting efforts have made a difference for Wayne State’s community.

“Everyone feels committed to Midtown,” Allen said.