Detroit violent crime rate drops after implementing chief's 12-point plan
Summer crime data shows Chief James White's program, including paying double-time to keep more officers downtown, has paid off
By George Hunter
The Detroit News
DETROIT — Following a bloody weekend in April that included six shootings downtown, Detroit police Chief James White launched a strategy to get a handle on the problems that annually plague Detroit during warm weather, including violent outbreaks in large crowds, raucous parties and drag racing.
When White announced his 12-point crime-fighting plan at an April 20 press conference, there had already been four homicides committed downtown in 2023, matching the previous year's total. There were no more homicides downtown throughout the summer, according to Detroit Police Department statistics. Two other categories of crime experienced increases in downtown for the April 1-Sept. 22 period, while another one experienced a precipitous decline.
Crime citywide has also fallen since White launched his plan that included using "Casper Units" — undercover cops in crowds — closing some streets; enforcing noise, open-alcohol and curfew ordinances; and adding more "eyes in the sky" with helicopter patrols and officers on rooftops.
"We've seen significant drops, not just downtown but all around town," White said about the crime trends. "We're certainly not celebrating just yet, (but) we do feel our efforts this summer to balance patrols downtown with the rest of the city have been successful, and it gives us a template to work from moving forward."
Detroit police officers patrol in the Greektown entertainment district of the city's downtown on Sept. 8, 2023. Crime in downtown and violent crime citywide have fallen since Police Chief James White launched a late April plan following a series of series of shootings and incidents earlier in the year, according to Detroit Police Department statistics.
There were 144 criminal homicides recorded in Detroit from Jan. 1-Sept. 22, down 10% from the 160 killings during the same period in 2022. The 5,579 aggravated assaults citywide through Friday represent a 3% drop from 5,741 last year, while sexual assaults declined from 360 to 349 during the period, another 3% fall. Robberies, however, rose from 729 in 2022 through Friday to 742 so far this year, a 2% rise.
White, meanwhile, said the citywide 31% plunge in carjackings from 183 in 2022 through Sept. 22 to 126 this year has been "historic."
"We're seeing record lows in carjackings, and that's thanks to the hard work of our officers and utilizing technology like license plate readers," the chief said. "We've found that criminals are often driving a stolen car before they carjack another one. LPRs allow us to see if a car is stolen, and we can flood areas where there are lots of carjackings and catch someone driving a stolen car before they steal another vehicle."
The downtown crime statistics were mixed.
For the period of April 1-Sept. 22, there were 113 aggravated assaults downtown, up 24% from 91 during the same period in 2022, according to statistics from DPD's Downtown Services Section. But from the time White announced his plan on April 20 until Sept. 22 — about five months ― there were 34 aggravated assaults or less than a third of the overall assaults recorded during the nearly six-month period, according to police officials.
There were 60 robberies reported downtown, up 54% from the 39 reported during the same period a year earlier.
But sexual assaults in downtown for the April 1-Sept. 22 period fell to six from 17 for the same period a year earlier, according to the Downtown Services Section — the lowest number going back to 2018.
White said Mayor Mike Duggan authorized paying officers double time to work downtown events, which the chief said helped stave off potential problems with huge crowds, including the weekend of June 9-11 when Taylor Swift held two concerts in Ford Field that coincided with a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park and multiple other downtown happenings.
"The mayor has given me everything I need, including allowing me to pay double time to officers who are on leave during big downtown events, which allowed us to keep officers in the precincts as well as covering downtown," White said.
"After we had those incidents in April, we really stepped up the community engagement downtown," he said. "We wanted to get the businesses to work with us while stepping up enforcement on the businesses that weren't complying. We'd found some businesses had loud music they were playing late at night, and some of the parking lots were encouraging parties on their lots.
"We convinced our business community to follow the rules, and made sure they had people to contact if there were any issues," White said. "We did a lot of proactive things this summer, and it paid off."
Other officials get involved
After the April shootings, Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield said she facilitated a meeting between Greektown business owners, White and other Detroit police officials "to address the longstanding issue of violence downtown."
"As a result of that meeting, DPD, with the cooperation of the business owners, instituted a plan that enhanced resources across the board from a law enforcement standpoint, which included more manpower, technology, and the deployment of a traffic plan," Sheffield said in a statement. "The resulting reduction in crime and violence is directly correlated to this new collaboration and collective resolve to once and for all ensure the safety of all who visit Greektown and downtown Detroit.”
White's plan was a success because police and the business community worked together, said Melanie Markowicz, director of the Greektown Neighborhood Partnership.
"The Greektown district has been working closely with the Detroit Police Department and partners on strengthening safety and security in downtown Detroit," Markowicz said in a statement. "Chief White has been supportive of businesses and has deployed effective strategies that have made downtown a safe place to live, visit, enjoy events, shop, dine and celebrate. They have worked with individual business owners to address needs, and have been responsive to feedback."
Sal Abuliai, owner of The Ham Shop on Monroe, on the western fringe of Greektown, said a bullet pierced the wall of his restaurant during the violence in April — "but nobody from the police or the city came to check and see if we were OK."
"Things seem to have gotten a little better, but there are still too many problems," Abuliai said. "I'm way over here (off the main Greektown strip), and nobody from the city seems to care about this place. But, yeah, there aren't the shootings like there were earlier (in April)."
Miles from downtown, in one of Detroit's most notorious neighborhoods, things were also relatively quiet this summer, said Vaughn Arrington, who lives on the city's east side and mentors teens in "The Red Zone," the area in the northeast quadrant of the city that's known for violent crime. The Red Zone falls in one of the nation's deadliest ZIP codes, 48205.
"Things were definitely quieter in the Red Zone this summer," said Arrington, 41. "Usually, you'd think something was strange if you didn't hear gunshots every night, but that hasn't been the case this year. There are still shootings, but not every single night. We can go a few days without hearing gunshots, and that's unusual in the 48205."
Duggan lauded White for balancing public safety downtown with deploying officers throughout the city.
"Chief White's summer plan included increased police presence downtown, on the riverfront and in the parks throughout the city," Duggan said in a statement. "Every night, dedicated DPD teams disrupted drag racing events and shut down loud and illegal block parties. The public showed tremendous support for the summer. The results speak for themselves."
A Detroit police officer stands in front Delmar Kitchen & Bar restaurant with an Evolv weapons detection system in the Greektown area of downtown Detroit on Sept. 8, 2023. An increased police presence in downtown along with other policies are being cited for a citywide reduction in many crime statistics for the year through Sept. 22 and a drop in certain violent crimes in the downtown area from April 1-Sept. 22.
A specific "call code" for drag racing and drifting was established Aug. 8, 2021. In the remaining four months of that year, there were 970 calls for service involving those crimes, although Detroit police officials warned that the number is skewed because a single event often results in multiple phone calls.
In 2022, there were 2,758 drag racing/drifting calls for service for the whole year. Through Sept. 20, 2023, there have been 1,816 calls for service. Because the number of calls can be skewed, it is unclear statistically whether drag racing and drifting have declined.
But anecdotally, Arrington said he's hearing lots of complaints from the youths he mentors about the police crackdown on drag racing and drifting.
"There's less drag racing in the neighborhoods, and part of that has to do with the police, and then a lot of the guys were already finding different places to do it," Arrington said. "They're not doing it in the neighborhoods as much; they're finding more remote areas where trouble won't find them, including going outside Detroit.
"But some of (the reduction) is absolutely the police," he said. "The cops started finding out where the (drag racing/drifting events) were happening, and they started showing up all the time. So that made even more people look for other areas besides the neighborhoods, although the guys were starting to do that anyway."
White also credited the drop in warm-weather crime in part to the One Detroit Violence Reduction Partnership's "summer surge" program. The partnership between local and federal law enforcement agencies targeted two of Detroit's most violent neighborhoods between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Those areas — the 8th and 9th precincts — experienced double-digit drops in carjackings, robberies and gun crimes.
"One part of the effort was an enforcement strategy designed to prosecute the most violent individuals and crimes in federal court when that was possible," the Detroit U.S. Attorney's Office said in a press release. "This effort resulted in 22 defendants being charged with federal firearms offenses. Of those charged, 13 defendants have been detained pending trial, three defendants have pleaded guilty to charges, and 18 defendants are pending trial."
White said several factors, including partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and community groups, technology and proactive policing have combined to lower crime this past summer.
"It all plays together — technology, officers proactively patrolling, plus the new raises we got have boosted morale," White said, referencing a 2022 contract agreement that gave each officer an immediate $10,000-a-year raise, with 4% annual increases each year for the next four years. "We have a mayor who understands crime because he was a former prosecutor, who gives me the tools I need.
"Detroit is becoming a town a lot of people want to visit," White said. "We've got big-city problems, but when you've got thousands of people who want to come to your city, those are good problems to have. We've got the NFL Draft and other events coming up next year, and given what happened this summer after the initial surge in violence, I'm confident we'll be prepared."
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