Detroit led U.S. in murder, crime rates, FBI says

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News
  • Murder and violent crime falls in Detroit%2C but city still tops U.S. in crime rate
  • FBI crime report is from 2013. City says murder down in 2014

Detroit — Crime fell in Detroit last year, but not enough to prevent it from being the most dangerous big city in the nation, according to FBI crime statistics released Monday.

Detroit was tops in both murder rates and violent crime rates among cities with populations of more than 100,000. Two more Michigan cities, Flint and Saginaw, joined Detroit among the top five most dangerous cities with populations greater than 50,000.

The release of data follows Detroit's emergence from bankruptcy Friday, and it underscores how much work remains to rebuild population and faith in the city, said Detroit Police Commission Chairman Willie Bell.

"Detroit definitely has a long way to go," he said. "People will not move into the city unless you can address this. There are realities we can't ignore. People are worried about getting car-jacked while getting gas. People are getting robbed in their own driveways. Churches are hiring security guards because they are afraid. There is no sacred areas anymore."

Police Chief James Craig stressed that murder, carjackings and robberies are trending down in 2014. He said residents tell him they feel safer because of the department's efforts.

"This just didn't happen overnight," said Craig, who became chief in July 2013. "I mean how long has Detroit had the distinction? Are we turning the corner in the city? Absolutely, and it is going to continue to get better. But can it happen overnight? No, it just can't."

The FBI data shows Detroit had 316 murders in 2013, a rate of 45 per 100,000 people. It was followed by New Orleans (41), Newark, N.J. (40), St. Louis (38) and Baltimore (37).

Detroit's 14,504 violent crimes — murder, rape, assault and robbery — gave the city the highest per-capita rate in the nation.

Last year, crime fell both in the city and nationwide. Murders were down 18 percent and violent crime fell 3 percent in Detroit. Nationwide, murders were down 4.4 percent, while violent crime fell 4.1 percent, according to the FBI.

Detroit police collect crime numbers differently than the FBI; the numbers can include justifiable homicides. Craig said his department reported a higher number of homicides, 333, last year than the FBI.

Other cities in Michigan with populations above 100,000, in contrast, are among the safest in the nation. Sterling Heights had no murders in 2013 and the violent crime rate ranked 46th among 290 cities with populations over 100,000. Ann Arbor was the 47th safest.

Sterling Heights Police Chief Mike Reese issued a statement saying his force "must continue to be vigilant and pro-active in its crime suppression efforts to keep Sterling Heights one of the safest large cities in the United States."

Law enforcement in Detroit, including Craig, have launched several programs to cut crime and, over the next 10 years, the city plans to invest $1.7 billion to increase public safety, reduce blight and make other improvements citywide.

Craig said the city has 261 murders so far this year and is on pace to end with its lowest number in four years. Savings from the city's bankruptcy are expected to increase the ranks of the police, which now has 2,800 sworn and civilian personnel.

Last year, Detroit accounted for half of Michigan's 631 murders. The city's murder rate was 10 times the national average of 4.58 per 100,000 residents.

To put that into perspective, if Detroit had the same murder rate but had the population of New York, it would have recorded 3,791 murders last year.

Chicago last year had 414 murders. That's nearly 100 more than Detroit, but the city has 2 million more people. If Chicago had Detroit's murder rate, it would have had 1,228 murders.

Detroit resident Bryan Ferguson said his neighbors are numb to crime.

"I just wish we could get more police officers on the street," said Ferguson, president of the Schoolcraft Improvement Association, a neighborhood group in Northwest Detroit. "If you don't have enough police on the street, all they are doing is for naught."

In 2012, Flint had the highest murder rate in the nation. But Detroit overtook Flint in 2013 after Flint's population dropped below 100,000. When compared to cities of 50,000 or more, Flint and Saginaw would remain in the top five among the nation's cities.

Saginaw was third in violent crime and second in murder rates among 756 cities with populations of more than 50,000.

Gary, Ind., had the nation's highest murder rate among cities above 50,000 but under 100,000 population.

Among middle-sized cities in Michigan, West Bloomfield Township had the lowest violent crime rate, followed by Troy, Novi and Farmington Hills.


News Staff Writer George Hunter contributed to this report.