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Detroit police to bulk up Greektown patrols after recent violence

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit police officer Austin Hunter keeps an eye on Monroe Street in Greektown on April 18.

Detroit — With warm weather approaching — and in the wake of a recent stabbing of a man in Greektown — Detroit police officials plan to beef up patrols in the popular downtown neighborhood for the second consecutive year.

Police Chief James Craig said he realizes increasing officer presence in Greektown will likely prompt complaints from residents who believe police and city officials for years have cared more about making downtown safe than other neighborhoods — an allegation Craig disputes.

Greektown, a small commercial and entertainment district in downtown's northeast quadrant, has been plagued by high-profile crimes during the warm months in recent years.

Last year, during the Memorial Day weekend, there was a nonfatal quadruple shooting in Greektown.

In 2017, an Easter Sunday brawl was captured on video; in June there was a triple shooting outside a parked party bus. In December, a man was fatally shot inside the Greektown Casino Hotel.

Earlier this month, police arrested a 33-year-old man hours after he reportedly stabbed a 20-year-old man in the 500 block of Monroe. But the victim has refused to press charges, so no warrant was submitted to prosecutors, Detroit police officer Holly Lowe said.

Craig said he hopes to stave off problems in Greektown headed into the summer.

"We make seasonal adjustments to staffing, and since there's more activity in and around downtown during the warm months, we will staff accordingly," Craig said.

In response to last year's violence, Craig increased police presence in Greektown, and he said statistics show the decision paid off.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 102 crimes reported in Greektown, including 41 assaults and four robberies, according to police data. During the same period last year, Greektown had 538 reported crimes, including 167 assaults and 19 robberies, statistics show.

"Beefing up police presence does work," Craig said, adding that making Greektown the city's first Green Light Corridor also should help keep crime to a minimum. In January, participating Greektown businesses entered into a three-year agreement to pay $250 a month for three high-definition cameras for police to monitor in real time when an emergency call is placed.

When the Green Light Corridor was announced, Craig said police would have been able to catch the Easter brawlers earlier. 

Some Detroit residents, including Kwame Yamoah, believe police and city officials historically have focused on making downtown safe, to the detriment of other neighborhoods. 

"There are places in the city, particularly on the east side, where if you take a ride through there, especially at night, you'd realize there's a complete absence of law enforcement," said Yamoah, who lives in the Boston-Edison neighborhood on the city's west side.

"On the other hand, if you go downtown, you'll see plenty of police officers," Yamoah said. "So the complaint about downtown receiving more police attention than the neighborhoods ... one can't dispute that."

Craig does dispute the claim. He declined to give specific manpower numbers, citing security reasons, but he said some precincts are staffed more heavily than downtown.

"We do sometimes pull officers from other precincts for downtown, but most of the officers downtown are either working on overtime or Secondary Employment details," Craig said. The Secondary Employment program allows officers to moonlight in security jobs, including guarding entertainment and sports venues.

"But we also will pull officers from other precincts to go to other precincts in the neighborhoods," Craig said. "Generally speaking, if you look at the 8th and 9th precincts, they get more calls for service, more criminal investigations — and more officers."

Not all Detroit residents have a problem with Craig adding officers in Greektown. When Bernice Smith, 86, was told of the plan, she said: "Wonderful. I've been hoping they'd do that, because you got youngsters running wild down there."

Craig said the notion that city and police officials prefer to keep downtown visitors safer than neighborhood residents isn't true.

"You hear that, but we make staffing decisions according to need, not because we care more about one part of the city," the chief said. "We're responsible for all parts of the city. People forget: Downtown is a neighborhood, too."

Craig said he meets with police officials monthly to determine which areas of the city need more cops, and they adjust on the fly.

"Recently, we saw a spike in shootings on the west side, so we redeployed our Tactical Services Section (a mobile unit that goes to different parts of the city, depending on crime trends) from the 9th to the 8th Precinct," Craig said. "So the notion that we only care about downtown ... I reject that.

"Crime patterns determine how we staff neighborhoods, and that fluctuates," Craig said. "It's a juggling act. The situation is, at any given time, we may have concerts, and baseball or football games that attract a lot of people to Greektown. We can't under-staff those events."

Part of the challenge in past years, Craig said, was to ensure adequate staffing with fewer cops, although he said recent hires have bumped up staffing to 1,856, comparable to the 1,858 officers on the force five years ago.

There are more uniformed officers patrolling now than five years ago because the department hired civilians to handle many duties, such as clerical jobs and manning the Real Time Crime Center, Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said.

Craig said he didn't hear as many complaints about downtown staffing — and allegations that police care more about suburban visitors — when he worked as a police officer in other cities. Craig was a longtime Los Angeles cop and served as police chief in Cincinnati and Portland, Maine. 

"In Detroit, there's a resentment by some, not all, residents toward the suburbs that I didn't see as much in other cities," he said. 

"Whenever there are entertainment and sports venues, and where alcohol is served: You have to staff accordingly," Craig said.