Detroit police tout drop in violence, vow to arrest New Year's Eve shooters

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police officials Friday touted a reduction in violence last year, while promising to arrest a group of gang members who were videotaped committing the first crimes of 2020.

Violent crime dropped 4% in 2019 over the previous year, although nonfatal shootings and homicides rose by 5% and 2% respectively, according to Detroit police statistics unveiled by chief James Craig during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters.

There were 273 homicides in Detroit in 2019, up from 261 the previous year — only the fourth time since 1967 the city recorded fewer than 300 killings — while nonfatal shootings rose slightly, from 753 in 2018 to 767 in 2019.

Detroit police chief James Craig, flanked by officials from his department, Wayne State Police and Michigan State Police, discusses 2019 crime statistics during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters

During Friday's press conference, the chief said investigators have identified the 14 men who were captured on a viral video firing pistols in the air at midnight on New Year's Eve. Police collected 250 spent shell casings from the scene, Craig said.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said of the incident in the 9000 block of Warwick. "When you look at that video, it's embarrassing for the city."

Craig said the alleged shooters were all members of a "local west-side gang." Of the 14 people involved, seven are on parole, the chief said. "Two of the seven were on tethers." 

The department's Task Force Administration and Crime Intelligence units "worked relentlessly to identify the people in the video," Craig said.

The chief said now that police have identified the shooters, they're working to arrest them. "If you think we're playing around, guess what belated Christmas present you have coming? We're going to violate your parole," he said.

Two calls from neighbors reporting the incident were among the 93 "shots fired" runs Detroit police responded to on New Year's Eve, down from 157 reports last year, Craig said.

During the news conference, the chief discussed details of some of the year-end crime statistics.

In 2019, carjackings fell by 21%, the largest drop in the violent crime category; while robberies increased by 1%, Craig said. Property crimes fell 3%, while Part 1 crimes — a combination of violent and property crimes — also dropped 3%.

Craig also provided statistics Friday showing a five-year downward trend for violent and property crimes in Detroit.

According to DPD figures, from 2015-19, Part 1 crimes dropped 17%, violent crimes fell 16%, homicides fell 7%, nonfatal shootings dropped 26%, robberies fell 35% and carjackings saw the largest drop, 53%.

Midtown resident Bernice Smith, who attended Friday's press conference, said crime in her neighborhood is down, but added: "You've got some areas where people are running wild, because they aren't afraid of the police.

"Our officers need to get a raise; they're out there every day putting their lives on the line," she said.

Chris White, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, released a statement Friday criticizing Craig's press conference.

White said members of the civilian Detroit Board of Police Commissioners should have been at the briefing. He added: "It is not a positive thing given the history of police community relations to see several law enforcement agencies taking victory laps and the appropriate number of crimes aren't being properly addressed.

"We strongly feel the citizens would rather have a comprehensive plan as to how to address crime opposed to data presentations that lead to questions as to the reliability of the data," White said.

Craig did lay out some plans to address crime in 2020, including a "violent crime reduction initiative" with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and Sheriff's Office.

The chief also said he wanted to "put more rigor" into COMPSTAT meetings — weekly sessions in which department heads are asked about computer statistics on crime, trends in offenses, and what they're doing to stop them.

The chief said he was not satisfied with how the department responded to a spate of shootings in July and November.

"When people started getting shot, I didn't feel we reacted as quickly as we would have liked," Craig said. "I'm going to be holding station commanding officers responsible to address upticks in violent crimes."

James Deir, special agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, also discussed an upcoming joint initiative between local and federal law enforcement agencies.

"We’re creating a task force of 11 agents, a K-9 dog, four highly-skilled Detroit detectives, an asset from the Michigan Department of Corrections, and a Wayne State Police officer, to identify and disrupt shooting patterns, and go after trigger-pullers who are terrorizing our community," Deir said.

Gang violence was responsible for the increases in shootings in July and November, Craig said. He said police worked with "street advocates" acting as mediators to negotiate a truce between rival gangs. The chief does not identify the names of gangs, because he doesn't want to give them publicity.

"Going forward, the key is making sure we don't wait for the first body to fall," Craig said. "When we anticipate there's going to be violence, we need to respond quickly."

Craig said he's encouraged by the five-year downward trend in violent and property crime, but added there's work to be done.

"You've often heard me say, I'm not going to wave a flag of success," the chief said. "But are we making progress? Absolutely."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN