Detroit sees 5% drop in homicides in 2021 from previous year
Police Chief James White cautioned that the city's level of violent crime still does not warrant 'bragging'
By George Hunter
The Detroit News
DETROIT — While cities across the country in 2021 set records for homicides or recorded sharp increases, killings in Detroit dropped slightly, according to preliminary police department statistics.
There were 309 criminal homicides in Detroit in 2021, a 5% decrease from 324 the previous year, according to preliminary data released to The Detroit News.
Nonfatal shootings fell to 1,065 in 2021, a 9% reduction from the previous year, according to the data.
"With the level of violent crime we're still seeing, we're not going to sit here and say this is great, and start bragging about our stats," Detroit Police Chief James White said. "But from a benchmark standpoint, these numbers show us what we're doing is working, so we can continue doing it."
Robberies fell 9%, while there were 216 reported carjackings in 2021, one more than in 2020, according to the statistics.
Sexual assaults were up 17% over the previous year, but White argued that data is skewed because a record low number of incidents were reported in 2020 due to COVID restrictions that prevented teachers, doctors and others from spotting warning signs of abuse by relatives and acquaintances.
There were 736 sexual assaults reported in 2021, up from 629 in 2020. In 2019, there were 952 reported sexual assaults, and 988 in 2018.
Property crime in Detroit rose by 3% in 2021, with a 19% surge in motor vehicle thefts. The most serious crime ticked up 2%, while overall violent crime had a minuscule percentage increase, with the 14,649 incidents representing 61 more than in 2020, the preliminary data shows.
Official 2021 crime statistics are expected to be released this week, although White said the numbers likely won't materially change.
Detroit's drop in homicides and other violent crime comes as cities nationwide, including Atlanta, Philadelphia, Louisville, Milwaukee, Tucson, Portland, Oregon, Columbus, Ohio and Toledo, broke records for annual homicides.
Other big cities, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston also reported homicide increases in 2021.
When White took over as interim police chief in June, homicides in Detroit were up 27% over the same period in 2020, and the number of nonfatal shootings at that time represented a 44% increase over the same period the previous year.
White said on June 1 he set a goal for the department and each precinct to reduce shootings and homicides by at least 10% for the second half of 2021 over the same period in 2020. From June-December, there were 24% fewer shootings in the city, and each precinct other than the 9th and 11th met the goal.
"We really focused on the community," White said. "I know that sounds cliché, but we put a great deal of effort into collaborating with citizens and other agencies, and we redeployed a lot of officers to make them more visible in the neighborhoods. Officer visibility is a big part of this; if people see a cop, they're less likely to commit a crime."
Eastside resident Patricia Kobylski said she's noticed more police recently in her neighborhood near Gratiot and McNichols.
"You see a lot more police cars, and we really haven't had any problems here," Kobylski said.
But Walter Burton said there's been no discernable difference in patrols around his westside home near Plymouth and Evergreen.
"Nothing ever changes," he said. "Everything feels the same as it always has."
The 9th Precinct, which covers the city's high-crime northeast section, had the most homicides in 2021 with 42, down from 50 the previous year. The 9th Precinct also led the city with 186 nonfatal shootings, two more shootings than in 2020.
The 7th Precinct on the city's southeast side, and the 12th Precinct on the west side each recorded 17% drops in homicides, the city's largest decreases. The 4th Precinct in southwest Detroit logged a 43% drop in shootings, the most in the city.
White said multiple factors helped address Detroit's violent crime, including increased crowd control measures during the summer, community outreach efforts and a "four-point strategy" he implemented when he became chief that empowered precinct commanders to devise programs tailored to the neighborhoods they patrol.
In June, White and Mayor Mike Duggan announced plans to crack down on the "party atmosphere" in parks and neighborhoods. Duggan authorized White to pay 4,000 hours of overtime per week for officers to work crowd management details, and an additional 2,000 weekly overtime hours to tackle drag racing and drifting.
"I'm convinced those overtime details really helped prevent a lot of violent crimes," White said. "We were able to break up a lot of drag races and large gatherings before they got started, and I think we avoided a lot of problems."
White said more initiatives are planned for 2022.
"We're going to launch a Community Safety Strategy in a few weeks and release a strategy for each precinct," he said. "We'll continue letting the individual precinct commanders come up with their own ways of implementing these strategies because each community is unique and has different needs. That approach seems to be working."
The safety strategy will require precinct commanders to meet statistical benchmarks, address drag racing and traffic issues; seek input from clergy and business owners; address abandoned houses, and other quality-of-life concerns; and recruit new officers while deploying more cops to foot patrols.
Detroit Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore, a former Detroit police officer, said the strategies seem to be working.
"Crime happens because of three elements: A criminal, a victim, and the opportunity," said Moore, who was elected in August to represent the city's 7th District, his second term on the police board. "When you make police more visible, you're removing a lot of the opportunity for crime, and that seems to be what's happening."
White became chief after his predecessor James Craig announced in May that he planned to retire on June 1. Three months later, Craig launched his campaign to run for Michigan governor as a Republican. Duggan named White as interim chief in May, and in August appointed him as Detroit's 43rd police chief.
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