Detroit police chief aiming to wipe out 'rampant' gun violence

Detroit News staff
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police Chief James White on Thursday said his department is determined to eradicate "rampant gun violence" and to crack down on those illegally carrying weapons.

The chief detailed two shootings in recent days in the city — a 15-year-old fatally shot at a convenience store on E. Seven Mile over a social media dispute and the nonfatal shooting of a 12-year-old inside a home on Nottingham — noting the department and White's leadership team are "serious about keeping our communities safe."

Detroit Police Chief James White unveiled a new website Wednesday that will highlight unsolved crimes in Detroit and provide residents cash rewards for tips that lead to arrests. The effort was created in partnership with Crime Stoppers of Michigan.

"Now's the time," White added during a Thursday briefing at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters downtown. "If you illegally carry a gun in our community, we're going to arrest you. We're unapologetic about that. It's time we start asking ourselves 'what about the victims?'"

The first incident, White said, unfolded just before 9 p.m. Jan. 7 at a Mobil gas station. The 15-year-old male victim, he said, was fatally shot by a suspect who police said was accompanied by another male.

Authorities released photos of a "person of interest" being sought in the shooting that White said arose from a social media conflict. 

"They decided to meet up here and have a fistfight," he said. "But someone brought a gun to a fistfight and decided to use it."

The suspect, White said, allegedly struck the victim before the gun jammed, then racked it and shot the teen again. 

"The 15-year-old could be our own child," he said. "In fact, he's the city's child."

Surveillance photo of a suspect wanted in connection with a fatal Jan. 7 shooting inside a Mobil gas station on E. Seven Mile in Detroit.

In the second shooting, a 12-year-old was struck "as he was getting ready for bed" when "someone shot through their home" in the 10000 block of Nottingham on Monday. 

White Thursday noted an "astronomical" increase in gun purchases in the country in recent years and the sharp rise in the city, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The chief said in about $13.9 million guns were sold in the U.S. in 2019 and $23 million in 2020. 

"When COVID hit, this country went into a mode of lockdown and also purchase a large number of guns," he said. "Also, it's no secret that a number of those guns fall into the wrong hands."

In 2019, Detroit had 9,000 registered gun owners. There were 17,100 in 2020 and 22,000 in 2021, White said. 

White, who stepped in as Detroit's police chief in June, said illegal gun ownership is a big concern of his department. Law-abiding gun owners have to follow the law and that includes maintaining a valid license to carry their weapons, he noted. 

The increase in guns however hasn't translated to more gun-related arrests. White said that the city's arrests for carrying concealed weapons dropped 31% in the last quarter of 2021 compared to the last quarter of 2020, dropping from 1,686 arrests to 1,147.

"That's not a bad trend for us. What that number tells us is that the message is getting out," he said. "We're hoping that people make better decisions."