Detroit sees largest decline in gun violence in over five decades

For decades Detroit has been known across the nation as a center for gun violence, casting a shadow over the city’s reputation and contributing to a perception of danger and hardship. This narrative, marked by cycles of progress followed by setbacks, has defined Detroit’s journey from the 1960s to the early-mid 2000s. The city has experienced its fair share of prosperous periods, yet these have often been overshadowed by significant downturns. While the perception of Detroit as unsafe and destitute may have been justified in the past, today, the city of Detroit has seemingly seen a noticeable decline in such violence.

“I’ve been around long enough that I don’t really get excited too easily… In 2019 we put together a violent crime reduction task force led by the Fugitive Apprehension Service Team (FAST) who had the task of going out serving warrants on gun offenders and violent offenders,” said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. “They’ve been doing a great job since 2019 and I’ve been asked many times to have a press conference to talk about their accomplishments, but we had to see some statistical data if the impact from that was really making a difference on the crime in Detroit and Wayne County and they’ve done significant things but nobody wants to hear about the numbers of arrest, what people want to hear about is the overall reduction of crime.”

Detroit was once ranked as one of the top five most violent cities with absolutely no encouragement for non-Detroiters to visit, rather, it was quite the opposite. Now, Detroit is seeing a resurgence with being named one of the World’s Greatest Places in 2022 by TIME magazine for its resilient people, rich heritage, and diverse culture as well as one of the “Best Places to Go in 2024” for North America and the Caribbean, according to Conde Nast Traveler. And as far as gun violence, well we’re seemingly changing the trajectory there, too.

Detroit is on track to record its lowest number of homicides since 1966, a decline that city, county, and state officials attribute to a concerted effort to clear Wayne County’s backlogged court docket. Data released as of November 30, 2023, shows a decrease of 18% in criminal homicides in Detroit since January 1, 2023, compared to the same period in 2022. If this trend continues, Detroit could end 2023 with the fewest homicides since 1966, when there were 214 killings.

This decrease in homicides is notable against the backdrop of Detroit’s changing demographics. The city’s population was 1.67 million in 1960, more than double the 639,111 recorded in 2020. In 1966, the homicide rate was 12.8 per 100,000 people based on the 1960 population, while 214 homicides with the current population would result in a rate of 33.4.

“It’s no secret that we were caught somewhat flat footed right out the gate when we launched our early spring deployment (of officers) which is lesser than our summer deployment,” Detroit Police Chief James White expressed to Michigan Chronicle back in October. “We saw an uptick in violence that first warm weekend where we saw numbers in downtown that we’ve never seen for a number of reasons.” White goes on to explain how the feeling of a post pandemic era showed a higher rise in violence particularly downtown. “People are emerging from COVID, not that COVID is over but there’s certainly a feeling that we’re in a post-COVID era and with the venues downtown and all the activities that’s going on we saw hundreds and hundreds of more people and particularly more teenagers that we hadn’t seen.” White says that these factors along with a buzzing downtown scene, it garnered more of a violence upheaval in the area which in turn was the catalyst for the noticeable deployment of more officers in the downtown area as a whole and the placing of metal detectors in Greektown where most nightclubs are centered, and large crowds gather.

Moreover, when it comes to the heart and soul of Detroit, its neighborhoods, the community decided to take charge. Community policing has played a pivotal role in the transformation of Detroit, particularly in improving safety and fostering a sense of shared responsibility. Central to this has been the commendable work of local organizations like New ERA Detroit, which emphasizes the importance of community accountability. Their mission, focused on empowering residents to take charge of their neighborhoods and hold local institutions accountable, has significantly contributed to the city’s improvements. By encouraging a collaborative approach between the community and law enforcement, New ERA Detroit and similar groups have helped bridge gaps, build trust, and create a more cohesive, vigilant, and resilient community. This partnership has been instrumental in the city’s journey towards reducing violence and enhancing the quality of life for its residents.

Evans took the lead in coordinating efforts among the county agencies and the courts. “Leadership, teamwork, and a commitment to the community were key components of this initiative,” Evans said. “Our data shows that 50 fewer Detroiters will lose their lives to gun violence in 2023 and 100 fewer will suffer gunshot injuries,” he stated. “This success resulted from every single agency working together and working hard.”

The reduction in crime is linked to a city, county, and state initiative started in late 2021 to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the criminal justice system. This initiative led by County Executive Evans and Mayor Mike Duggan involved key officials such as Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Chief James White, Sheriff Raphael Washington, and judges from the Wayne County Circuit Court and the 36th District Court. Their efforts focused on reducing the backlog of felony gun cases and improving the overall efficiency of the criminal justice system.

The results of these efforts have been significant: an 18% decrease in homicides, a 13% reduction in non-fatal shootings, and a 36% drop in carjackings compared to the same period in 2022. Key strategies included reducing the backlog in felony gun cases in the courts, increasing staffing for law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office, enhancing coordination in shooting and homicide cases, and improving accountability for defendants on tether and for those on probation and parole.

“This collaboration is unique in that issues are identified, solutions discussed, and these solutions are implemented. It is not just talk, talk, talk. The people at the table are the decision makers and significant work is done at each meeting. We have and continue to tackle serious issues – gun violence, lack of resources, backlogs, training, recruitment and retention, police officer no shows, and other system failures that needed fixing. Many of these are long standing problems that we have been successfully tackling in a very meaningful way,” said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

The FAST unit, a joint initiative between the Detroit Police Department and the Wayne County Sheriff, apprehended nearly 1,000 individuals with outstanding felony warrants in 2023, focusing on those wanted for gun crimes. State funding played a crucial role in supporting these strategies, with allocations of $2.5 million in 2021 and $12.5 million in 2023.

“It is important that you all know a couple of numbers, since the inception of the Violent Crime Reduction Initiative (VCRI), the Wayne County Sherrif office along with the Detroit Police officers have arrested 3,646 felons,” shared Wayne County Sheriff Ray Washington. “I think that’s a number you’d want to hear about because this is result driven.”

While acknowledging that even a single violent crime represents a genuine loss and cannot be understated, it is important to highlight the notable decrease in the number of gun violence incidents. This decline, though set against the backdrop of the tragedy each incident embodies, is a significant fact that merits attention. Contrarily, this makes one wonder, considering the historical fluctuations in crime rates in Detroit from the 1960s to the present, are the increased arrests and initiatives directly contributing to this change, or is it the result of a broader, more collaborative effort, including community policing and a focus on reducing gun violence? Furthermore, how can the city sustain and build upon the current positive trends in safety and public well-being, ensuring that the improvements seen in recent times do not become just another peak in a cycle of ups and downs?

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