Detroit Police roll out enforcement effort to honor slain 11-year-old girl

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police officials Tuesday announced an anti-violence effort that was launched in honor of an 11-year-old girl who was killed during a June 4 sleepover, making her at least the third Detroit child to be shot this year while sleeping at home.

The initiative was announced following a wave of Detroit violence that includes six homicides and 40 nonfatal shootings during the week of June 7-14, according to police statistics.

From left, Detroit Police Department Ninth Precinct Cmdr. Gerry Johnson, Chief James White and 11th Precinct Capt. Jevon Johnson address police officers before they start 'Operation Saniyah' on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Detroit police will fan out into all parts of the city over the next several days to arrest suspects wanted on outstanding warrants and for violent crimes.

Saniyah Pugh was struck in the back by a stray bullet while inside her grandmother's home with five other children in the 20200 block of Goulburn on Detroit's east side, police said.

During a press conference outside the Ford Resource and Engagement Center Tuesday, Detroit Police Chief James White rolled out "Operation Saniyah," which was deployed on the east side Tuesday, with the effort to be repeated on the city's west side Wednesday.

The initiative will continue for a third day throughout the city, White said.

White and other command staff briefed dozens of police officers from Operation CeaseFire, Traffic Enforcement and Special Operations about the effort, which will focus on arresting people with outstanding warrants and investigating violent crimes.

Operation Saniyah is similar to past enforcement efforts under the "Operation Restore Order" initiative. During a January Restore Order deployment, police said they made 14 arrests and recovered drugs, guns and more than $20,000 in cash.

"There's been ridiculous gun violence of epidemic proportions across the country and an uptick in Detroit," White said Tuesday. "We're dedicating this enforcement operation to Saniyah. We're going to constitutionally enforce outstanding felony warrants and people who violate tethers."

In addition to targeting violators and wanted felons, the effort also will focus on recent crimes that include a shooting Monday at Ascension St. John Hospital on the city's east side. According to police, the victim of an earlier freeway shooting was targeted outside the hospital. The victim's father was shot in the ankle.

Operation Saniyah also will home in on a recent double shooting on East Robinwood Street.

"We'll be handing out pictures of the suspect," 9th Precinct Cmdr. Eric Johnson told the dozens of police officers who mustered in the Ford Resource and Engagement Center parking lot before being deployed throughout the eastside.

Detroit Police officers go over their assignments before they head out on 'Operation Saniyah' on Tuesday, June 14, 2022 outside the Ford Resource and Engagement Center on Detroit's east side.

White said the operation also will investigate "a few other crimes we'd like to surprise (the suspects) with."

Saniyah's death was at least the third case since February where a Detroit child was shot while sleeping at home.

In April, a 4-year-old boy was shot in the buttocks while sleeping in his home in the 18400 block of Stout. Four other children were home at the time.

A 5-year-old boy was killed five days before his birthday in a shooting that also claimed the lives of his parents. Two teens were arrested and charged with the killings.

William Dickerson, 21, faces multiple charges, including second-degree murder in connection with Saniyah's killing. A 17-year-old female whose name was not released was also charged in the case with multiple felonies, including intentionally discharging a firearm at a dwelling or occupied structure causing death.

Prosecutors say Dickerson and the woman were firing a gun from a nearby backyard, and that one of the bullets struck Saniyah.

Despite the recent violent crime wave, homicides and nonfatal shootings have dropped year-to-date over 2021, according to police data. As of Tuesday, there were 118 homicides in 2022, down from 134 in 2021. Nonfatal shootings were down from 453 in 2021 to 360 this year during that period.

Carjackings are the only violent crime category that's up this year, with 105 incidents as of Tuesday, a 25% jump over the 84 carjackings during the same period last year.

In 2021, there were 309 criminal homicides in Detroit, a 5% decrease from 324 the previous year, according to police data. Nonfatal shootings fell to 1,065 in 2021, a 9% reduction from the previous year, according to the data.

But the recent spike in violence required a response, White said.

"People have to right to be safe in their communities," he said.

Added Deputy Chief Eric Ewing: "The community is tired. We're tired, too. We  want to take these streets back for the next three days and beyond."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN