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Detroit on track for lowest homicide rate since 1966

Officials claim the drop in violent crime is the result of a multi-agency partnership that pushed cases through court quickly following COVID-19 closures


Police Chief James E. White holds a news conference in 2022, in Detroit. (Hernz Laguerre Jr./The Detroit News/TNS)

The Detroit News/TNS

By George Hunter
The Detroit News

DETROIT — The city of Detroit is on pace to record its lowest number of homicides since 1966, city, county and state officials said Monday as they attributed the decline to a program they started two years ago to clear Wayne County’s backlogged court docket.

Through Nov. 30, there were 228 criminal homicides in Detroit since Jan. 1, 2023 — an 18% drop from the 278 killings during same period in 2022, according to numbers released during the press conference at Wayne County’s downtown Detroit office. If that pace continues, Detroit officials said the city would end 2023 with the fewest homicides of any year since 1966, when there were 214 killings.

Detroit’s population in 1960 was 1.67 million — more than double the 639,111 counted in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. The homicide rate per 100,000 people in 1966s was 12.8 based on the 1960 population, whereas 214 killings with the current population would result in a rate of 33.4.

The development comes as Chicago has reported a double digit decline in homicides there so far this year, according to the Chicago Tribune. Detectives have opened 569 murder investigations, which resulted in a 12% reduction from the same time last year, according to Chicago Police Department statistics. It also amounts to a homicide rate per 100,000 people of 20.7.

In addition, Philadelphia reported in a Nov. 29 report that homicides are down 19% since the same period in 2022.

But almost 40% of police departments nationwide no longer provide crime statistics annually to the Federal Bureau of Investigation after a change in reporting requirements, leaving a data dearth in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and other large cities that criminologists say make it difficult to understand Detroit’s developments in the national landscape.

Nonfatal shootings through Nov. 30 are down 13%, from 873 last year to 760 in 2023, while car jackings dropped 36% from 236 to 151 during the period, officials said.

During Monday’s press briefing, officials claimed this year’s year-to-date drop in violent crime is the result of a multiagency partnership that was formed in April 2021 to get rid of thousands of gun felony cases that were backed up in Wayne County Circuit Court and Detroit’s 36th District court. The cases had piled up while the courts were closed for two years during the COVID pandemic.

But it wasn’t clear from the press conference how precisely reducing the backlog of gun cases helped to prompt the decline in homicides. Two officials attributed the decline to better monitoring of tethered gun crime defendants out on bail with certain conditions.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Wayne County Sheriff Rafael Washington and Detroit Police Chief James White were among the officials who discussed during the livestreamed press briefing the details of the case reduction initiative and how they said it contributed to this year’s lowered crime numbers.

Also on the coalition were Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Patricia Fresard, 36th District Court Chief Judge William McConico and Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington. They held regular in-person meetings to discuss the backlogged cases and how to clear them.

McConico and two other district judges got permission from the State Court Administrators Office to act as circuit court judges to work on backlogged gun cases.

Under the program, the pending gun felonies in Wayne County Circuit Court dropped 67% from 4,008 in October 2021 to 1,330 as of Nov. 26, while 36th District Court’s backlog fell 80% from 2,098 to 415 during that period.

Officials did not say how many of those defendants had cut plea deals.

“This is a day we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” Duggan said. “We were making significant progress (reducing violent crime) before COVID, then all across America, violence soared. ... We know why: The criminal courts shut down. You couldn’t put 12 jurors in one room. Also it was hard to hire police officers.”

Evans added: “COVID highlighted what we knew: We had some systems that were overworked and needed to be fixed. But most systems don’t get fixed because there are too many layers of government involved.”

Evans said he and Duggan pulled together leaders from multiple agencies to address the backlogged docket.

“We all sat down and figured out it’s not just catching bad guys,” Evans said. “We can’t overlook the fact that the dockets are crunched and not realize that has an impact on safety in the streets.”

McConico said during the pandemic, “people were just being given tethers with no conditions.” He added that since the program was initiated, “there’s either curfew, or they’re under house arrest — there’s no more you’re just out on bond with no conditions. The stats speak for themselves. The city is now a safer place.”

White said it was helpful that the coalition included Duggan, a former Wayne County prosecutor, and Evans, who was Detroit police chief and Wayne County sheriff.

“To have them at the table making decisions immediately was a great help,” he said.

Following Evans’ prepared remarks, when asked how he was able to determine that the initiative was responsible for this year’s lowered crime statistics, he said: “We’re comfortable because we’re crushing the docket. We’re getting cases disposed of. We’re able to actually see that folks on tether are on tether and being monitored. Whatever it is, whichever component it is, we have the indicators now that let us track the systems we put in place and then look at the trends as it relates to crime.”

The county executive added: “If someone needs to know with certainty this or that (whether the program is directly related to the drop in crime), that may be a little more difficult, but this is a data-driven approach that we think clearly has worked or we wouldn’t be having this press conference.”


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