Editorial: Detroit community policing cutting murders

It’s a dubious distinction, but Detroit is no longer the murder capital of the nation. St. Louis has that title. FBI crime statistics show Detroit had 298 homicides in 2014, down from 316 in 2013. The city’s rate of 44 murders per 100,000 people was lower than St. Louis’ rate of 50. That city, with a population of 318,000, had 159 murders last year.

The positive numbers are a tribute to the crime-fighting efforts in the city, both by the local police department and the Michigan State Police.

The police department’s Neighborhood Police Officers Program is making some inroads in what is the department’s most difficult task — gaining the trust of residents.

The program features one-on-one contact between police officers and members of the community in settings that don’t involve response to crime.

“We have designated three to four officers in each precinct to work with citizens,” says Sgt. Cassandra Lewis, who is in charge of media relations. “Everyone has the opportunity to meet (the officers). Residents have officers’ phone numbers and patrolmen handle neighborhood domestic problems, anything that is not violent but may require some mediation.”

In addition, Lewis notes, Police Chief James Craig frequently speaks to community groups and holds small sessions with residents.

The state police’s Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT) program, established 20 years ago, also seeks to build trust between law enforcement and the community.

Another program, TEAM (Teaching, Educating and Mentoring), helps schoolchildren deal with difficult issues such as bullying and dating.

The direct policing presence of troopers in neighborhoods increases law enforcement visibility, and that also serves as a deterrent to crime.

For example, a state police sergeant, eight troopers and a canine officer have been assigned solely to Detroit’s 9th district. The officers focus on traffic stops, but not to write tickets. Of the 3,200 traffic stops made since January, only 109 tickets were issued. However, 105 fugitive felons were arrested along with 841 people wanted on misdemeanor counts.

“We’re definitely seeing a double digit drop in the crime rate in the 9th district,” says Lt. Mike Shaw, commander of the unit.

Shaw notes the canine officer and a state police helicopter are available to Detroit for serious crimes.

Although St. Louis is the new murder capital, Detroit’s overall violent crime rate remains among the worst in the nation for large cities. Last year, there were 13,616 violent crimes — murder, rape, assault and robbery.

Detroit is moving in the right direction. And what police are learning is that programs to engage the community in keeping their neighborhoods safe, and to discourage crime before it happens, are effective tools in keeping the city safe. As are collaborative efforts with other agencies.