Homicide, Gun Violence, and Epidemiology in Detroit

More about the above map HERE

The Detroit Police Department (DPD) has been making strides to improve their operations, including: cracking down on internal corruption, adopting data-driven crime tracking, and utilizing innovative approaches for crime prevention. When Chief James Craig was hired he brought back a data-driven model of policing that tracks where crimes happen, by whom, as well as where police patrols are deployed. This is an important step forward for the DPD to manage the large land area of Detroit while utilizing statistics to plan police asset allocations. Being aware of crime trends and locations is critical to understanding how best to improve safety in Detroit. Last year DPD and Crime Stoppers held a gun buy back event in Detroit and early this year it was reported that a Federal investigation by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) collected a number of illegal guns after setting up a fake barbershop in Detroit. The ATF’s primary goal was to identify key “trigger pullers” in the community who are committing violent crimes.

“What we need to understand gun violence is a #publichealth approach.” – David Satcher #APHA13

— Prevention Institute (@preventioninst) November 4, 2013

These data-driven and community focused approaches are critical to making Detroit safer as well as utilizing police and community resources more effectively. Innovative and effective approaches to crime prevention are desperately needed in Detroit. A crime prevention approach rooted in public health is gaining traction in reducing homicides in other major US cities. The Cure Violence program uses a public health/ epidemiology approach to identify “trigger pullers” who contribute to the spread of homicide and crime in communities by sending violence “interrupters” who are former gang members into the streets to intervene. The Man Up! program in Brooklyn uses this same approach and saw 363 days without a shooting or killing this past year.

My own research shows that homicides in Detroit follow a disease diffusion pattern across the city. Emanating from two key hotspots while continuing and spreading from those areas throughout the year with over 80% of Detroit homicides committed by gun.

It was announced today that $1.6 million will be granted to fund, “36 AmeriCorps volunteers to analyze crime statistics and help neighborhood block clubs and other groups learn how to report crime, keep an eye on the neighborhoods and how to avoid becoming victims.” The Free Press article notes that the program has been in effect in Midtown and East Jefferson over the last three years and they have seen a 44% reduction in crime. Funding ($722,000) for the program comes from the Kresge Foundation, Skillman Foundation, Henry Ford Health System, Jefferson East Inc., and Detroit Medical Center. Does this signal Detroit taking on a public health approach to crime and violence? I sincerely hope DPD and funders push for more public health strategies for crime and homicide prevention.

If anything this is welcome news over involvement from the Manhattan Institute (proponent of increasing incarceration rates to reduce crime) and the expansion Stop-and-Frisk in Detroit. There can be only positives in getting residents and police officers to meet on common ground instead of police officers wantonly stopping and frisking innocent Detroit residents. Hopefully the involvement of Foundations, Health Systems, and community advocacy groups can continue to improve the DPD approach to crime prevention.

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