Detroit less violent in 2014, police data show

George Hunter
The Detroit News
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Detroit – — Violent crimes saw significant drops in 2014, mirroring the decline in homicides which likely fell to the lowest total in the city since 1967, according to preliminary Detroit police data.

The lowest number of homicides in Detroit in any of the past 47 years was in 2010, when there were 308.

Robbery had the sharpest decline, dropping from 2,836 in 2013 to 1,879 as of Dec. 22, when police released year-to-date crime statistics. That represented a 34 percent drop.

Carjacking, a subset of robbery, also saw a large drop, from 765 to 525, a 32 percent decline.

"Robberies and carjackings — those are the crimes that strike fear into most citizens," said Detroit Police Chief James Craig.

Even with the downward trend in crimes in the past few years, Detroit still ranks among the most violent cities in the United States, according to FBI statistics released in November.

Final crime numbers are expected to be released this week, but if the unofficial statistics hold, the city will have had the fewest homicides since 1967. There were 300 slayings in Detroit in 2014 and 333 the previous year, according to Craig.

The fewest homicides in Detroit in any of the past 47 years was in 2010, when there were 308. Before that, the lowest total was 281 in 1967, the year of the summer riots. The homicide rate, however, was much lower, since the city had about 1.5 million residents.

But even taking the current population of about 700,000 into consideration, the homicide rate per 100,000 residents dropped for the third straight year, from 55 in 2012, to 47.5 last year, to 42.9 in 2014.

Jerome Morgan, an east side resident who volunteers to patrol the city with several neighborhood groups, said he's seen a positive change in recent years.

"Things seem to be getting better," Morgan said. "Downtown is booming, and there doesn't seem to be as much crime in the neighborhoods I go into, either."

Craig called the drop in carjackings and robberies "the real plus."

"When you talk about a city being violent, people look at the homicide numbers. But that doesn't tell the whole story," he said.

"How many of those homicides were John Q. Citizen walking down the street and getting shot? That's rare. If you're not involved in illegal activity, chances are you aren't going to get killed."

There were 14,381 overall violent offenses for most of 2014, down from 15,376 last year.

Sexual assaults dropped from 350 in 2013 to 320 in 2014, an 8 percent drop; while nonfatal shootings fell by 10 percent, from 1,148 to 1,030.

Not all crimes were down in 2014. Aggravated assaults were up 4 percent, from 8,716 to 9,066; domestic violence had a 2 percent rise, from 7,480 to 7,649; and justifiable homicides were up from 16 to 22, a 37 percent increase.

Craig said several factors have contributed to the lower crime numbers, including targeting known crime hot spots with increased patrols and raids.

Willie Bell, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners citizen oversight panel, who retired from the Detroit Police Department in 2003 after 32 years, agreed that targeting specific areas has helped drive down crime.

"We look at the crime stats every week, and looking at crime patterns in terms of deployment appears to be working," he said.

Previous Detroit police chiefs, including incoming Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Ralph Godbee, also used a data-driven approach to crime fighting, but Craig has put a heavier emphasis on the model.

Shortly after taking over as chief in July 2013, he instituted weekly COMPSTAT computer statistics meetings, in which captains are called upon to address crime issues in their precincts.

"Holding people accountable is a big part of the solution," Craig said.

"So is building a strong relationship with the community."

Last year, Craig added the Neighborhood Police Officers program to each precinct in an effort to build relationships with residents.

"Those relationships absolutely have an effect on crime, because it lets residents become part of the solution, and they feel empowered."

Population isn't the only factor to look at when considering a city's crime problem, Craig said.

"Look at Los Angeles: there are 4 million people, but only 255 homicides last year. New York: 8 million people, 322 homicides last year. I look more at the socioeconomic issues that drive crime. High poverty has an effect on crime, not population."

According to U.S. census data, Detroit last year had the fourth-highest percentage of children below the poverty level.

"Poverty absolutely is one of the biggest reasons we have a crime problem in Detroit," Bell said. "You look at the lack of job opportunities, the dropout rate. It's no excuse for crime, but it explains it.

"When kids drop out of school, they're normally not going into the workforce; they often become involved in criminal activity.

"If we can address the lack of jobs, and fix the educational system in Detroit, then we'll start to see a change."

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