Detroit has lowest homicide tally in 50 years

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — In 2017, Michigan's biggest city posted its lowest tally of criminal homicides in more than a half-century: 267, Detroit Police Chief James Craig confirmed Monday. 

That number, if it holds upon review, is the fewest criminal homicides since the 214 recorded in 1966. But that was at a time when Detroit had a population of more than 1.5 million people — a rate of about 14 homicides per 100,000 residents.

The 267 homicides in 2017, compared to Detroit's most recent estimated population of about 673,000 as of July 2016, is a rate of about 40 per 100,000 residents.

Compared to the 305 homicides in Detroit in 2016, the 2017 tally represents a 12 percent drop. In 2015, Detroit recorded 295 homicides.

Later this week, police department brass will discuss the official 2017 data at a press conference, police said.

Only four times since 1966 has Detroit finished a year with less than 300 homicides: 1966, 1967 (the year of the uprising), 2015 and 2017. In 1968, the total shot up more than 100, from 281 in 1967 to 389. At the high water mark in 1974, Detroit had 714 homicides.

Mayor Mike Duggan credited 2017's drop in homicides to the expansion of two initiatives: Project Green Light, a surveillance program at some 240 gas stations, fast-food restaurants and other businesses in the city, which provides high-quality video to investigators; and Operation Ceasefire, a program in which police partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Wayne County prosecutors to identify gang members and others who are likely to commit crimes or be victims. 

"Chief Craig has started to have the necessary resources," Duggan told The Detroit News on Monday. "The criminal element is starting to pause."Craig, who also serves as deputy mayor, also credited the lower crime numbers in part to Project Green Light.

The project's cameras are monitored by officers and civilians in the police department’s Real Time Crime Center in what Craig calls “virtual patrols.”

Craig called those virtual patrols "force multipliers" that allow police the ability to monitor known and emerging hotspots for crime remotely in addition to patrols done by scout cars.

Craig said the city has 232 Green Light locations, and the goal is to have 400 by the end of next year.

Duggan cited last month's arrests of twin brothers filmed while allegedly shooting up a gas station on Fenkell as a success of the Green Light program.

"Two or three years ago, we would've only been able to offer a general description," Duggan said. "With Green Light, we had clear video and were able to quickly make the arrests."

The other program city leaders cite as a factor in falling crime is the expansion of Operation Ceasefire. Craig said he expects to roll out that program citywide by March. It’s currently operating on the east side and in the 6th Precinct on the west side.

Duggan called Operation Ceasefire "a team effort of all the agencies" involved, including the Detroit Police Department, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, and the Detroit branch of the U.S. Attorney's Office, which Duggan described as "the most aggressive in America in prosecuting gang violence." 

"We have got the most advanced system of crime intelligence that the police department has ever had," Duggan said. "They are able to pull data instantly; if a shooting happens at 2 a.m, we have the ability to pull data and have a really good idea which groups are involved and be out the next day responding."

Some targeted in Operation Ceasefire are connected to educational and job-training opportunities, Duggan said.

"One guy (once targeted in Ceasefire) is a manager at a manufacturing factory now," Duggan said.

Another, Craig said, chose not to show up to a Ceasefire meeting as planned. Within two hours, he was arrested for violating his probation. Soon after returning to the streets, he was killed, he said.

In recent years, advances in medicine also have driven down homicide numbers nationwide, Craig added.

Duggan and Craig both cited the police department's closure rate for homicides — 58 percent as of two weeks before the new year — as another factor in building trust with the community. 

"When you have relationships with the community you serve and protect, they talk to you," Craig said.

He compared the closure rate to the 11 percent it was in 2012 before he arrived. Part of the problem police had, he said, is that the community "had lost confidence in us." 

Seeing suspects be arrested and face charges has helped, he said. 

Other major metropolitans are also reporting drops in homicides for the year.

In Chicago, homicides also fell from the historic high of 771 in 2016 to 650 in 2017, a decline of about 16 percent, according to the Associated Press. 

The New York Daily News is reporting New York's police probed 290 homicides for 2017, the city's lowest mark in nearly 70 years.

Detroit's four-day respite in homicides to end the year was not without violence. 

On Saturday, a 23-year-old man was shot on the west side while driving with a four-year-old boy in his backseat.

Early on New Year's Eve, a 30-year-old man was shot twice after allegedly arguing with a man in his 50s at a club on Eight Mile. 

And in the last hour of 2017, two men were shot in separate incidents – one shot in the hand outside a liquor store in southwest Detroit, the other in undetermined circumstances on Seven Mile and Gratiot – in two of the six shootings that rang in the new year. 

Staff writer George Hunter contributed.