Detroit returns as most violent city in '16, data shows

Christine MacDonald, and George Hunter
The Detroit News
  • Detroit was No. 1, recording 2,047 violent crimes per 100,000 people.
  • St. Louis was No. 2 and Memphis, Tennessee No. 3 ranking violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

Freddy Jackson was shot in the leg in 2002 on Detroit’s west side, and despite rhetoric touting the city’s comeback, he said he doesn’t feel any safer now than he did 15 years ago.

“I don’t think (crime) is getting worse, per se, but I don’t think it’s getting better either,” said Jackson, 42. “It depends on the area. They’re building up certain areas like downtown, but in some neighborhoods it’s still pretty bad.”

FBI data released Monday show violent crime in Detroit surged 15.7 percent last year, an increase that ranked it as the nation’s most violent big city — a distinction that police officials disputed.

In 2016, 13,705 violent crimes were reported — murder, rape, assault and robbery — in the city compared with 11,846 in 2015, according to the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report.

Violent crime data mixed for other Michigan cities

But Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday the numbers were wrong, blaming an antiquated software system called CRISNET, which he said caused some crimes to be double reported. The system was replaced in December and its numbers show a 5 percent reduction in violent crime last year, the chief said.

“I don’t agree with the stats,” Craig said. “The state police and the FBI know this. We go through this every year. ... It’s a horrible platform. We have a new system that’s more accurate.”

Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw said: “We use the stats (Detroit police) give us. We work with them if they think there’s a problem with stats, like we do with every police department in the state, but we report what they provide to us.”

Shaw said he believes Detroit was the only Michigan police department to use CRISNET.

According to the FBI, Detroit’s rate of 2,047 violent crimes per 100,000 people placed it highest among cities with more than 100,000 residents, above St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee.

Detroit had seen violent crime drop 13 percent in 2015, earning the No. 2 ranking nationally. St. Louis took the top spot that year.

Craig said Detroit police questioned the numbers that year as well. This year, one problem with the rankings, he said, is that aggravated assaults are inflated in the FBI’s report.

Violence in U.S. rises for second straight year

He said there were about 1,000 more aggravated assaults reported in Detroit to the FBI than actually happened because of the software problem in 2016 .

Double counting could happen if officers spelled someone’s name differently. The incident could then show up as two separate crimes, Detroit Police Deputy Chief David LeValley said.

“The new system gives them the option to put in a birthdate, so that doesn’t happen,” he said. “The old system also generated reports that were coded wrong, so it was listed as the wrong crime type. The company didn’t even update the software any more, that’s how old it was.”

Detroit police last year purchased a new $9.1 million computer system, Superion, which Craig and LeValley said is more accurate.

Before switching to the new reporting system, Detroit police contracted with David Martin, a crime statistics expert at Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies, to pore through the CRISNET stats and fix errors. “Those are the numbers we’ve used,” Craig said. “But those aren’t the numbers that got reported to the state police and then the FBI, because as soon as something is entered into CRISNET, it immediately goes to the state police.”

Craig said officials tested the new system’s accuracy in July.

“We were at about 7,000 Part 1 crimes, and it was off by 17-18,” he said. “That’s pretty accurate. When you’re talking about a discrepancy of 1,000 aggravated assaults in one year, which is what happened with CRISNET, that’s troubling. But we had no money to change the system before. We’ve complained for years about it, but now we’ve moved into modern times.”

Independent of the numbers, residents like Troy Muhammad say crime negatively impacts the quality of life in Detroit’s neighborhoods.

“You have to consider the crimes that aren’t reported,” said Muhammed, coordinator for Life Launch, a program that helps people ages 18 to 24 get their GEDs and find jobs.

“You can’t point to just one thing, and you can’t blame the police or Mayor (Mike) Duggan, or (former mayor) Kwame (Kilpatrick),” said Muhammed, who lives on the city’s west side. “This is the result of problems and mismanagement that’s gone on for years. Look at the schools. We get people in our program who graduated from Detroit Public Schools who test at a fourth-grade level. And when you’re stuck with nowhere to go in this society, a lot of people will make do with what’s out there, which is criminal activity.”

Nationally, violent crime rose for the second year in a row, up 4.1 percent from last year. Murders in the United States were up by 8.6 percent, according to the FBI data.

The FBI report shows murders in Detroit last year were up 3 percent: 303 in 2016 from 295 in 2015.

Craig, at a press conference in January, acknowledged there was an uptick in homicides in 2016, but said other violent crimes were down last year.

Detroit’s murder rate didn’t lead the nation. The nation’s highest murder rate in 2016 was in St. Louis, with a rate of 60 per 100,000 people, followed by Baltimore, at a rate of 51 per 100,000. Detroit was No. 3, recording 45 murders per 100,000 residents.

St. Louis, with a population of 314,507, recorded 188 murders and Baltimore, with 618,385, had 318.

Chicago has garnered headlines for its rise in murders: 765 in 2016 compared with 478 in 2015, a 60 percent increase. The murder rate in the city, with a population of 2.7 million, was 28 per 100,000 residents, still significantly lower than Detroit’s.