‘It gets really bad after dark’: Crime persists on Gratiot in Detroit
Detroit — Gratiot Avenue is home to several Detroit institutions: Eastern Market. The Faygo Bottling Plant. The Better Made Potato Chips factory.
And, police and residents complain, robberies and assaults.
From Gratiot's starting point at Woodward Avenue downtown to the city limits at Eight Mile — a stretch covering about nine miles — there isn't a three-block area that's been crime-free this year, according to the Detroit police online crime map.
"These young boys are crazy out here, so I just go to work, come home and stay inside the crib most of the time," said Daniel Andrews, 59, who lives a block off Gratiot near Eight Mile. "I don't go outside if I don't have to."
Gratiot cuts through the 48205 ZIP code, one of the most dangerous in the United States, which is referred to by residents as "4820-die." Gratiot also forms the western boundary of the high-crime neighborhood called "The Red Zone," which is known for gang activity.
"The Gratiot corridor, in the 9th Precinct as well as the several other precincts it runs through, has a high crime incidence," Cmdr. Eric Decker, commanding officer of the 9th Precinct, said in an email. "This is mostly in part to the business density of the avenue. Basically, you have a high concentration of victims on a specific street, therefore you have a high incidence of crime."
Even the area around the 9th Precinct headquarters at Gratiot and Gunston isn't immune. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 10, reported crimes in the mile radius surrounding the station house include 138 assaults, 71 aggravated assaults, eight sexual assaults and a kidnapping, according to police data.
Decker pointed out that crime along almost all busy Detroit streets is high. "(The crime on or near Gratiot) is ... consistent to other major corridors in the city, i.e., Seven Mile Road, Vernor, Six Mile and Greenfield," he said.
Decker said crime-fighting strategies for the Gratiot corridor are often formulated at weekly COMPSTAT (computer statistics) meetings, in which police officials scrutinize crime trends and discuss possible solutions.
"Of course it is on the radar and discussed at probably every COMPSTAT and crime-type meeting," Decker said. He said there are "multiple layers of crime-fighting strategies" being employed, from traffic enforcement and proactive patrols to using video feeds from Project Green Light participants and cameras mounted on traffic lights.
Lawbreakers who aren't caught don't show up in the statistics, but they negatively impact the quality of life for residents, said Carmen Gaddis, 64, who lives a few blocks north of the 9th Precinct police facility.
"It gets really bad after dark," she said. "A lot happens. The police station is right down the street, but it’s hot over here. And it’s not just the crime; it’s the way people drive. I call Gratiot ’94 junior,’ because they come through here doing 100 mph, drag racing and riding those (ATVs) and dirt bikes.”
Chain stores, gas stations, liquor stores and small businesses like auto repair and tire shops line Gratiot from Woodward to Eight Mile — but many areas a block or two off the main avenue are marred by abandoned houses, overgrown fields, trash and the crime that accompanies the blight.
"The city doesn't even care about this neighborhood," said Oris Floyd, 71, who lives on Tacoma Street, a block west of Gratiot, where his house is one of the only structures standing.
An abandoned house directly across the street from Floyd's place has the message “RIP Andreah” spray-painted on the siding. Frayed, stained stuffed animals are strewn across the porch — the remnants, Floyd said, of a long-forgotten memorial to a slain pusher.
“A drug dealer got killed over there about four years ago,” said Floyd. “Andreah was the drug dealer. I think his sister put the stuffed animals out there.
“It's pretty bad down the street; a lot of drug dealers over that way," said Floyd, who moved to the neighborhood in 1997. “A lot of prostitutes come around here too.
"But the big thing is all these abandoned houses," Floyd said. "All these people lost their homes about eight years ago and moved out, and these places have been empty ever since."
Several abandoned structures in that area are scheduled for demolition, said John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan.
"Earlier this year, the city came through and boarded up every vacant house in that area that could be secured," Roach said in an email. "A few were too structurally compromised to allow workers to safely board them.
"On Tacoma specifically, our workers observed three houses that were not secured on Friday. One was in too poor of condition to allow it, one is undergoing prep for demolition and needed to be accessed and the third was boarded previously but appears to have had some boards removed. Those will be replaced now that we are aware they are missing."
Roach added: "The city already has completed nearly 10 demolitions on the first four blocks of Tacoma west of Gratiot and has 22 more on that same stretch that are funded for demolition over the next several months."
Roach said an additional 75 homes are slated for demolition in the area bounded by Gratiot, E. State Fair, Schoenherr and Lappin.
"These demolitions should have an impact on crime in the area," Roach said.
As city and police officials work to decrease blight and crime along the Gratiot corridor, the signs of the fear that's gripped many in the area are evident.
During business hours, the front door of the S&K Body Oils & More shop on Gratiot near Eastburn is barred and locked. Employee Sheryl Richardson said there's a reason customers have to be buzzed inside.
"Right out there." Richardson gestured beyond the shop's front door toward Gratiot. "A boy got killed not too long ago. It was a gang thing."
Detroit police data show the homicide occurred in the 15100 block of Gratiot at 9:12 p.m. July 25. Police say the violence sparked over a fight earlier that day. Two suspects have been identified and arrested, police said, while investigators are still searching for a third suspect, Detroit police spokeswoman Latrice Crawford said.
Richardson said there aren't enough recreational options to keep Detroit kids out of trouble.
"Yeah, it's dangerous around here, but that's because these kids don't have anything to do, and nothing to look forward to," she said. "They closed all the rec centers. So they go around and cause trouble."