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Editorial: Detroit safer, but challenges remain

The Detroit News

On the road to Detroit’s recovery, Mayor Mike Duggan has promised to continue improving public safety. Among all of the needs in Detroit, making the city safe must be the top priority.

Duggan rightly understands despite the economic and cultural revivals taking place within the city, people won’t stay if they don’t feel secure in their neighborhoods.

And even with recent progress under Detroit Police Chief James Craig’s watch, Detroit still falls well short of that standard.

In his annual address, Duggan pledged to further cut police response times, which are still higher than the national average, and said the Detroit Police Department would add 200 more officers to patrol the streets.

Body cameras for officers are also a priority in the coming weeks.

The city still tops national rankings for both murder and violent crime rates in cities with more than 100,000 people. FBI crime statistics rank it the most dangerous big city in the nation.

The good news: carjacking and homicides are down from previous years, the lowest rates since the 1960s.

Police response times are also improved, particularly for serious crimes or priority calls. And more officers are visible on the streets, even though there are actually fewer police officers.

Retaining officers is a major challenge the city faces, along with pockets of complacency in what is otherwise a reforming department.

Even though he’s actively recruiting new officers, there’s still too much turnover, Craig said during a Detroit News editorial board interview in January.

New officers are joining Detroit’s force, but the time it takes to train a new recruit, about 18 months total, lags the attrition rate, which can be anywhere from seven to 25 officers a month.

The 200 additional officers Duggan plans to hire will come both from agreements with the union to move officers from desks to the streets and from the police academy.

Craig said the department has been trying to focus on “broken windows” policing in parts of the city, which means monitoring activity in neighborhoods with crime spikes and encouraging business owners to keep their stores clean to prevent the feeling that drug deals or other nefarious activity is welcome.

Detectives and officers also work more at the precinct level instead of being centralized at DPD headquarters.

Minor drug offenses are handled at the precincts as the former Narcotics Unit is now disbanded, and large-scale raids are rightfully reserved for large-scale crimes.

Craig called it a “dramatic shift” in Detroit’s policing strategies, and said it is having a positive effect.

Residents are generally more appreciative of the police presence, and more willing to talk to officers about crimes and issues in their area.

“It’s certainly a safer city,” Craig said. “Crime stats are only one part of the picture.”

Still, 300 murders in one year leaves much room for improvement. It’s critical the mayor and chief stay vigilant in reducing Detroit’s crime.