State police boost patrols after shootings, crash deaths

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Taylor — In response to the flying bullets and speeding vehicles that have increased the danger of driving on Metro Detroit freeways recently, Michigan State Police officials say they've ramped up traffic enforcement and patrols.

Since June 15, there have been 15 reported shootings on Metro Detroit freeways, two fatal, and 518 traffic fatalities statewide, three higher than the same period last year.

Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Mike Shaw

"And that's with nobody driving for four months," 1st Lt. Mike Shaw said, referring to stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns because of the coronavirus that have reduced traffic since late March.

"We think these things all tie together," Shaw said of the shootings and traffic fatalities, adding that "anti-police rhetoric," frustration and motorists who think police aren't patrolling because of the COVID-19 emergency may be contributing to scofflaw drivers,.

"When the message is (anti-police), maybe people who wouldn't normally speed might think they can go out and do that," Shaw said.

First Lt. Jennifer Johnson, commander of the Metro South post, agreed fallout from the coronavirus has led to increased lawlessness on freeways. 

(Left) Michigan State Police Detective 1st Lt. Robert Weimer, 1st Lt. Mike Shaw, and 1st Lt. Jennifer Johnson

"For a long time, there weren't any cars on the road, and some people thought that meant they could speed," she said. "They keep doing it now that there's more traffic, and I think that's leading to more fatalities."

In response, state police have combined the motor units of the Metro South post, which is in Taylor and covers freeways Downriver and in western Metro Detroit, and the Metro North post in Oak Park, which handles Oakland County freeways.

"The troopers are concentrating on traffic enforcement, and that's how we were able to get all these illegal guns," Shaw said, referring to an array of confiscated pistols and semiautomatic rifles displayed at Thursday's briefing. 

Increased enforcement efforts have resulted in Metro South troopers confiscating 103 illegal firearms since April 30 — up from 28 during the same period last year, Shaw said.

As troopers focus on traffic enforcement, state police detectives are trying to solve the shootings. Detective 1st Lt. Robert Weimer, commander of the agency's 2nd District Special Investigations Section, said police have identified 10 of the 15 shooters, and have arrested four of them.

A display of illegal pistols and semiautomatic rifles confiscated by Michigan State Police

"What's interesting is, we've gotten very few tips," Weimer said. "One (shooting) we're still trying to get information about is a July 5 incident on westbound I-94 near Mt. Elliot. We believe there were additional witnesses who saw something."

Overall, only four motorists were struck by the gunshots; two died, and the other victims suffered minor injuries, Shaw said. The rest of the bullets filed in the incidents hit the vehicles, he said.

"About 7-8 were road rage; traffic altercations," Shaw said. "Someone didn't put on a turn signal, and they got cut off (in traffic). Society is having trouble de-escalating. Someone gets mad, and the next thing, they're pulling out guns. Just let it go."

One of the shootings was gang-related, Shaw said.

He stressed victims of freeway shootings should notify police as soon as possible.

"Make yourself safe first, but call as soon as you can," he said. Shaw said one victim waited until the next day to report the shooting, and with hundreds of vehicles driving past, it tainted the crime scene.

Johnson added: "The troopers really want to stop these shootings. It's a shame that the public is scared to go on our freeways. We take that personally."

Anyone with information about recent freeway shootings is asked to call Michigan State Police at (313) 237-2450; or Crime Stoppers of Michigan at (800) SPEAK-UP (773-2587)

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN