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.

Stop-and-Frisk Adds to History of Police Abuse in Detroit


Adopting a “Stop-and-Frisk” policy is not the answer for Detroit. Stop-and-Frisk is a policy where police stop an individual, question them, and then frisk them to see if they are carrying drugs or guns. Police departments in both London and New York City (NYC) have utilized Stop-and-Frisk policies in recent years and both have seen racially biased abuses as well as wasted effort on a majority of innocent residents (90% innocent from NYCLU report). Representatives from the Manhattan Institute, who are consulting the Detroit Police Department (DPD) note that Detroit has always been a Stop-and-Frisk jurisdiction. One could argue that Detroit has also always been a jurisdiction of police abuse.

From rebellion to riots and attempts to rein in crime in a declining city, every police policy has been marked by police brutality. The deep divide between Detroit residents and the police department can be traced back to the 1943 race riot. During the 1943 riots, police violently cracked down on black residents, killing thirteen. The rebellion of 1967 saw similar incidents of police brutality as the nearly all white police force violently attacked the black population. These two events deepened the mistrust between the DPD and the black population. As a result violent crime reportedly doubled between 1965 and 1970. With the auto industry in decline and violence increasing, thousands of white residents migrated to the suburbs in what is well known as “white flight.” In response to the increasing crime, the DPD founded S.T.R.E.S.S. (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets) in 1970 and over its two and a half year existence was known for its brutal tactics, was responsible for 22 killings, and hundreds of unwarranted arrests of Detroit’s black residents until it was suspended in 1972.

Between 1990 and 1998 the DPD was estimated to be responsible for killing at least 10 people a year. The highest rate of any police department in the US. Many of these police homicides were labeled “justifiable,” however a number of police officers were put in jail as a result of community activism and legal convictions for police officers with unfounded “justifiable” homicides. The DPD has a history of under-reporting homicides and other cities have been cited for categorizing more “justifiable homicides” in order to decrease their homicide rates and appear to be safer. In many cases the reporting police officer may deem a homicide “justifiable” simply based on their own prerogative. In 2011, justifiable homicide was up by 79% while 2012 marked the highest year for homicides since 2007.

Earlier this year, Mayor Bing announced that the Gang Squad (featured in National Geographic’s “Inside Detroit’s Gang Squad”), best known for killing a young girl during a raid, would be disbanded and the officers would be placed in the precinct offices to help increase the number of patrol officers on the street. Ron Scott, with the Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality, told NPR that the gang squad is so rough, 30% of police brutality complaints are about the squad. “They were thugs,” Scott said. “Nothing but thugs.”

In a joint press conference, the Michigan ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, the Arab-American Civil Rights League, and the National Action Network, condemned the Stop-and-Frisk plan citing the issues with the policy in New York. “We don’t want STRESS 2.0,” Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the Detroit News. Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said that his organization has already received dozens of complaints about police improperly stopping residents (Detroit News). Stop-and-Frisk only perpetuates the pattern of police abuse against black residents seen since the 1940s and will do nothing to improve citywide or community crime prevention outcomes. Detroit needs an effective policing strategy that doesn’t needlessly profile or harass innocent residents.

Image source: Walter P. Reuther Library (28651) Riots, Sojourner Truth, Housing, Arrests, 1942