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Detroit's violent crime leads the nation; Flint reports big drop

Detroit's violent crime rate led the nation among big cities in 2019, despite the city's numbers dropping.

Last year, 13,040 violent crimes were reported to police — murder, rape, assault and robbery — in Detroit compared with 13,478 in 2018, a 3% drop, according to the FBI's Crime in the United States report released Monday morning. It occurred as violent crime nationwide dropped 0.5% last year.

But Detroit's rate of 1,965 violent crimes per 100,000 people placed it highest among cities with more than 100,000 residents, followed by St. Louis, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and Baltimore, Maryland.

Police chief James Craig attributed the high violent crime rate largely to two factors: More illegal guns on the street and people not knowing how to handle disputes.

And, Craig said, things have gotten worse on both fronts this year; as of Monday homicides were up 23% over the same period in 2019, while nonfatal shootings were up 50%. All crime is down 12%, driven by a 23% drop in property crimes.

"A lot of our violence is argument-based," Craig said. "We've seen significant increases in that. It was up last year, but it's gotten worse this year, with a lot of stress related to COVID."

Craig said more illegal guns on the street also has resulted in more violent crimes. 

"I'm not talking about people who purchase guns legally and have a legal license to carry," Craig said. "Those aren't the people causing the problems. It's illegal guns."

Detroit police officers arrest between 85-130 people weekly for illegally carrying guns, but Craig said they often end up back on the street with no bond. Often, the cases are pleaded down, resulting in probation.

"When there's no certainty for punishment for illegally carrying a gun, people continue carrying — and a lot of these people carrying guns illegally commit violent crimes," Craig said.

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Detroit also ranked as the most violent in 2018.

Murders in Detroit increased last year to 275 from 261 in 2018, according to the report. The city in 2017 made headlines when the homicide total dipped below 300 for the first time since 1967.

Detroit's murder rate placed it fourth highest in the nation, below St. Louis, Baltimore and Jackson, Mississippi.

Flint saw a significant drop in violent crime, according to the report. 

Violent crime decreased 26% last year to 1,284 crimes, which ranked Flint 15th nationally among cities with more than 50,000 residents. Last year the city's violent crime rate ranked it fifth in the nation. 

Murders in the city were down to 23 last year compared with 32 in 2018, according to the report.

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com