In Detroit, Improvement on Crime?
Crime is certainly one of the biggest barriers to Detroit's turnaround aspirations. So on Monday, the city's mayor, Dave Bing, and his new police chief, Warren Evans, quickly called a press conference to announce a slight positive news development: Homicides appear to be on the decline.
According to data released this morning at Detroit's City Hall, the number of homicides recorded during the third quarter of this year fell to 96, from 111, in the same period in 2008. That's a difference of about 16%. Comparing crime stats from previous years is a bit tricky, because of poor record-keeping. “I'm encouraged by the progress, but also recognize we have not solved the problem,” Bing said this morning, adding, “We can't hide from these statistics or reports, as unpleasant as they may be at times.”
One of Bing's first strokes after being elected mayor last May was hiring Evans, the well-regarded sheriff of Wayne County, which includes Detroit. Evans inherited a police force that has endured a 25% cut in recent years, mainly because of the city's budget crisis. (So far, Evans' department has largely been spared Bing's efforts to sharply reduce the number of people on the city's payrolls to close a deficit of at least $275 million.) As a result, the department's remaining 3,000 officers are overwhelmed dealing with violent crime across a large territory. During Monday's press conference, Evans acknowledged it typically takes his officers some 20 minutes to respond to 911 calls, although he wants to reduce the estimated response time to between 5 and 7 minutes. (In this week's print edition of TIME, we write about residents of some Detroit neighborhoods hiring private security forces.)
Evans attributed the decline in recorded homicides partly to his assigning roughly 20 officers to the department's gang enforcement unit, a move that has apparently bolstered the gathering of intelligence that may be used to prevent homicides and other crimes. Evans has also directed his officers' attention to the streets surrounding Detroit's schools. Just last week, a 15-year-old girl was attacked and sexually assaulted on her way to school.
Also today, the city reported that the police department had solved about 60% of the homicides recorded during the third quarter of this year, up from about 35% in the same period one year earlier, and apparently in line with the national average. The department, in a press release, said it was the first time in a decade it had closed 60% of its homicide cases. Evans attributed the improved closure rate partly to citizens feeling more comfortable reporting crimes. Another surprising development: an improved willingness among some suspects to turn themselves into authorities.
It's worth waiting to see if today's news is simply a blip, or the start of a sustained improvement on crime. Certainly, one metric by which Bing's tenure will be judged: Is Detroit safer than it was the day he took office?