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Mackinac Island — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is pleased with the overall progress the city has made in his five years at the helm. But the two millstones hanging around the city’s neck continue to frustrate him: Bad schools and crime.

Duggan talked with us about his two major challenges during an interview last week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

ON CRIME

The gun violence that plagues the neighborhoods has spilled over into popular downtown spaces recently, and that news is troublesome to Duggan.

Just over Memorial Day weekend, there were several shootings in Greektown, ending in a four-person shootout. It’s recurring incidents like this that give Detroit its reputation as the most violent city in America.

“The general direction is positive,” Duggan says. “But there are some weekends you feel like you aren’t making any progress and this one was one of them.”

And it’s a deterrent to visitors to the city, as well as potential job seekers. The state’s Talent and Economic Development Department, which wants to attract more talented workers to the region, conducted a study and found “48 percent of Midwest students and 42 percent of its professionals have crime or safety concerns and have a poor image of Detroit.”

While acknowledging the work that needs to be done, Duggan points to other cities that combated their violence and the time it took to make those cities safer.

“You look at the homicide rate in in Boston, New York and LA, and it’s a fraction of ours,” says Duggan. “So on one hand, you can say a brother shoots his brother, is that preventable? In those cities, they have gotten people out of the practice of settling their grievances with guns. And I think we are headed in the right direction. Ceasefire (a violence intervention program) has been working very well. But we have a long way to go.”

Duggan also has complete faith in Detroit Police Chief James Craig, and intends to keep boosting his department’s resources, which will allow Craig to expand the number of officers on the streets.

“[Chief Craig] is outstanding,” Duggan says. “Their homicide clearance rate is tremendous. It’s up in the 60s, which other cities have rates in the 20s. The ability of people to commit a crime and get away with it has gone down dramatically since he’s been there. If you look at what Boston did, what New York did, what LA did, the homicide rate went down 5 percent the first year, 7 percent the next year, 6 percent the next year. Over 10 years, suddenly you are down 50 percent. It wasn’t that they changed it overnight. And you are seeing that trend-line here. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have really bad periods of time, and this last week or so has been a terrible period of time.”

Duggan says rather than traditional gangs, Detroit struggles with “groups” who solve their disputes with violence.

“Somebody beefs with someone else in the group and now you settle the dispute between the groups with guns,” he says, “and you say, why does it get settled with gunfire?”

Duggan says he’s got a good relationship with U.S Attorney Matthew Schneider and Prosecutor Kym Worthy, and it will take their combined efforts to make a dent in Detroit’s violence.

“We’re all on the same strategy,” the mayor says.

ON SCHOOLS

Duggan also has strong faith in Nikolai Vitti, who just finished his first year as superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

“Vitti is doing a great job,” Duggan says. “I meet with him all the time.”

Vitti’s task is daunting, and he’s said it will likely take five years for reforms he’s putting in place to really start making a difference.

Detroit’s public schools are consistently the worst in the country, and the latest round of national standardized tests again affirmed that Detroit’s students are the lowest-performing in the country.

That reality is a huge deterrent to families looking to move to the city. Duggan is well aware that improving the city’s schools is essential to the comeback of Detroit, and while he’s adamant that he doesn’t want to run the schools, he is committed to partnering with Vitti where it makes sense.

Those areas include helping to revamp the district’s career and technical centers, which are seeing tremendous improvements, through coordinated help coming from both the city and business community.

And Duggan is also spearheading an innovative transportation system that could alleviate the struggles too many parents face in getting their children to school.

The Detroit school board recently approved the pilot program, which will start this fall, in northwest Detroit and includes 10 traditional public and charter schools. The district will also participate in a Community Education Commission that will grade all the schools in the city -- another tool that should help parents.

“We’ve hit a good strategy, which my role isn’t to run the schools but if I can support the career technical side, if I can support the transportation side for options for parents, if I can support after school programs available to the kids at DPS and charter schools, I think that’s a good role to play, and I think the rollout of this bus line in northwest Detroit is going to be fascinating,” Duggan says. “We’re going to try to make this the family-friendly neighborhood.”

ijacques@detroitnews.com

nfinley@detroitnews.com

 

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