Editorial: Violent crime improving in Detroit

The Detroit News

Crime has been a popular topic in the presidential election, but most of the debate has revolved around high-profile events in a handful of cities throughout the country, or explicitly on Chicago, where crime is soaring.

But now there’s data to back up the perception that violent crime across the country is on the rise. The violent crime rate is still much lower than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, but the recent uptick isn’t a good sign.

The FBI released crime statistics for 2015 earlier this week. Nationwide, violent crime increased by nearly 4 percent over 2014, and homicides in particular rose almost 11 percent over the same time.

The 2015 violent crime rate is the country’s highest in three years. What’s unclear is why violence is increasing.

With so much ongoing tension between police forces in many cities and the communities they serve — a phenomenon dubbed the “Ferguson effect,” after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — many have claimed officers are policing in a less aggressive manner.

That could be one cause. Certainly police relations aren’t at an all-time high.

Poverty and continued economic and wage stagnation could be another reason. About 950 more homicides were reported in the 100 largest cities in 2015 than in 2014. According to a New York Times analysis of the new data, about half of them took place in seven cities where the poverty rate is higher than the national average.

The good news is that in Detroit and throughout the state, the number of violent crimes and property crimes decreased.

Violent crime in the city dropped 13 percent in 2015. Those numbers set Detroit apart from other major U.S. cities with similar populations, such as Milwaukee and Baltimore, where homicides in particular increased last year.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig attributed the continued decline to the police force’s strong community relations, which seem to improve year after year.

Property crimes in Detroit, which include car theft, burglary and larceny, decreased last year by 16 percent. Car thefts decreased by about half, a very promising sign for the city’s safety and well-being.

Still, violent crime in Detroit remains too high; it ranks second in the nation after St. Louis. The city’s 2015 murder rate was essentially unchanged from 2014: 295 last year compared to 298 in 2014, or a rate of 44 per 100,000 people.

So improvements in the overall violent crime rate must be put in perspective. There’s a lot of work to do in Detroit, and elsewhere in Michigan.

In Flint, for example, the number of murders increased a staggering 67 percent — to 47 last year from 28 in 2014 — but the overall violent crime rate decreased about 14 percent. That just bumps it from the list of the top 10 most violent cities in America with populations of more than 50,000.

In both cities, a stronger police presence and better community relations are beginning to pay off.