Detroit chief: Fed help against crime would be welcome

George Hunter
The Detroit News

President Donald Trump wants to send federal help to Chicago because the city’s gun violence is at “epic proportions” — but Detroit’s police chief wonders why similar aid isn’t earmarked for Michigan’s largest city, which has a significantly higher homicide rate and a similar nonfatal shooting rate.

Others say Detroit doesn’t need help from Washington, insisting the city should better allocate its resources, and that such assistance likely wouldn’t help reduce killings anyway.

Trump tweeted Friday: “Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help.” That followed a January tweet in which the president said he was ready to “send in the Feds” because of Chicago’s high number of homicides.

But in Detroit, the chances of getting killed are far greater than in Chicago, while the possibility of getting shot in Detroit is only slightly lower.

“I would certainly support federal help, because I think the key is getting guns out of the hands of felons, because they’re the ones committing violent crime,” Detroit police Chief James Craig said.

There were 762 homicides last year in Chicago, which has a population of 2.732 million, for a rate of 27.9 per 100,000 residents. In Detroit, with 672,795 residents, there were 302 homicides last year, or a rate of 44.9 killings per 100,000.

That’s only slightly lower than 1974, when Detroit gained a national reputation as the “murder capital of the world.” Detroit’s homicide rate in 1974 was 47.6 per 100,000 residents, with 714 killings in a city with 1.5 million people.

Chicago’s nonfatal shooting rate per capita was 8.6 percent higher than Detroit’s last year — 158.5 to 145.9.

Year to date, Detroit has had 133 homicides, down 4 percent from the same period last year, and 982 nonfatal shootings, down 2 percent from last year.

So far this year in Chicago, there have been 306 homicides and 1,737 nonfatal shootings.

Craig pointed out that the number of killings and nonfatal shootings in Detroit has dropped in recent years. Since 2012, homicides and nonfatal shootings combined have dropped by 24 percent. But Craig said he isn’t satisfied, and would like to make it easier to prosecute gun cases federally.

The Chicago Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced Friday the formation of the Chicago Crime Gun Strike Force. The Chicago Sun-Times reported 20 additional ATF agents have been sent to the city.

Under the program, state police, intelligence analysts and state and federal prosecutors will target illegal guns and repeat gun offenders, according to Chicago police. Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement that “we are foundationally changing the way we fight crime in Chicago.”

Craig said he would welcome a similar program in Detroit, adding that a program launched two years ago to adjudicate gun crimes in the federal system has not been successful.

“If I had an ask, it would be that we have U.S. prosecutors on the ground side by side with some of our gang officers and Tactical Response Unit, taking certain gun cases federally,” Craig said.

Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, Craig and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced an initiative in 2015 to reduce gun violence in Detroit by prosecuting firearms cases federally, because cases tried in federal court usually result in longer prison sentences.

The program was launched as part of Detroit One, a collaboration of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that aims to reduce violent crime in the city.

As part of the initiative, billboards were erected bearing the message: “You Do The Math: Felon + Gun = Long Federal Sentences.”

McQuade said when the program was announced, the U.S. Department of Justice was funding two new assistant federal prosecutors to get Detroit firearms cases into the federal court system.

But Craig said the percentage of cases that have been accepted by the U.S Attorney’s office under the program is minuscule.

“In 2016, our firearms investigative team looked at 1,125 firearms cases for possible federal prosecution, of which only 118 met the criteria to be prosecuted federally,” Craig said. Of the 118, Craig said only 31 cases were accepted by the U.S. Attorney’s office for prosecution.

Craig said for the feds to take cases, certain criteria must be met: the defendant has to have had prior offenses involving weapons, violent assault or drugs.

“The process for getting a case into the federal system is slow,” Craig said. “We must complete a judicial review and arraignment within 48 hours (or the suspect must be released). The U.S. Attorney’s Office is not designed to handle that timeline, which is why most of our gun cases go through state court.”

Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, disputed Craig’s numbers.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office accepts for prosecution approximately 100 gun cases per year from DPD alone,” Balaya said in an email. “In addition, we accept cases from other cities such as Redford, Highland Park, Inkster, Flint and Saginaw.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan accepts more gun cases for federal prosecution than virtually every other U.S. Attorney’s Office in the country,” Balaya said.

Craig agreed the U.S Attorney’s Office accepts about 100 cases per year — “but accepting cases for prosecution and prosecuting them are two different things,” he said, stressing that last year only 31 gun cases from Detroit were prosecuted in the federal system.

Balaya said the Detroit One program doesn’t just deal with gun crimes.

“The Detroit One initiative is a broader anti-violent crime strategy than the program announced in Chicago, in that it incorporates weapon and gang prosecution in conjunction with community outreach,” she said.

“Since the inception of Detroit One in 2013, there have been 12 gang indictments, hundreds of federal gun prosecutions and numerous other gang members indicted for various crimes including narcotics distribution and identity theft,” Balaya said.

John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, declined to comment.

In Chicago, authorities said federal prosecutors and prosecutors from Cook County will work on new strategies to prosecute gun crimes and offenders.

Detroit Police Commissioner Lisa Carter questioned whether Trump has an ulterior motive in announcing federal aid in Chicago.

“Is there a Trump Tower in Chicago? I think protecting his interests might have something to do with it,” Carter said. “I don’t know that his best interests lie with Detroit.

“I really don’t think we’re at the point where we need federal help,” Carter said. “If you look at most of the fatalities in Detroit, the victims know each other, and I don’t think having more federal agents will help that. Also, crime is down in Detroit already.”

Detroit resident Troy Muhammad, who mentors children to try to steer them away from crime, said more focus should be put on things like education, which he said would prevent young people from becoming criminals in the first place.

“I’m not one who believes that we need that type of federal assistance,” said Muhammad, whose Life Launch program helps get young people with criminal records into college and trade schools. “I definitely think resources would be better spent by putting a greater focus on education and after-school programs.”

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

Associated Press contributed.