Detroit’s been called a city under siege because of its crime statistics. It was even the name of a recent forum at Wayne State University. Given the most recent statistics … 344 homicides in 2011 … there is truth to using the word siege.
Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, who spoke at the forum, said each homicide costs the public $5 million, all in. That includes police work, courts, grief counseling and so on.
But there’s so much more to the crime story. Detroit and its residents want to be liberated … get rid of the siege mentality … and they are committed to change. Like the line from the movie says they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
According to Godbee, 85% of the 344 murders were of men of color ages 17-34. One was Brenda Bell’s son.
When she heard her two phones rang she knew something was wrong. The voice on the other end of one she answered gave her the news … her son was dead, shot in the head. He was simply walking his friend to her car. That friend was dead as well … shot three times in the chest.
Part of a panel at a panel at the forum, Bell told her story in soft voice, still sometimes breaking when talked about her son, who died on Detroit’s streets about a year ago. Every night she says “I ask God to get me through the next 12 hours.” The answer, she said, is getting people involved in making the change. “Not enough of us are doing anything about it,” she said. She said she too often sees other mothers who are simply resigned to losing another child. “We cannot accept this,” she said. “It is literally killing us.”
First on her list to fix things … educating the children so they can find jobs, move out of the hopelessness of poverty and become productive citizens.
That should be first, but it goes hand in hand with community engagement. Getting that engagement means creating a trusting, bond between the neighborhoods, their residents and police officers. Think back to the old movies when we saw a police officer on foot chatting with people on his or her beat.
One neighborhood is trying it out.
I had the opportunity to listen to the results of a Detroit Police Department pilot project aimed at reducing home invasions in the Grandmont/Rosedale neighborhood. The program, which ran for from May through August, is proactive … aimed at preventing not reacting to crimes.
Here are the results. There were 32% fewer home invasions in the area compared to the same time last year. Police made eight felony arrests, including four for home invasion and a misdemeanor arrest.
Here’s how it worked.
Police officers were encouraged to interact more with residents … driving by in the patrol car and saying hi or chatting with people out walking or doing yard work. Godbee said officers documented 650 positive contacts with residents.
The greater engagement was very evident the meeting when the results were shared with the neighborhood at a packed house at the North Rosedale Community Center. Residents encouraged each other to join neighborhood patrols and shared insights on suspicious behavior. For example, does the rash of car tire lefts have any correlation with the opening of several used tired stores nearby?
Police officers and Department of Corrections officers also made 250 visits to the homes of people on probation and parole to seek out those they consider to be potential home invaders before they could commit crimes. It worked. Of the individuals selected for home visits … those who were the worst offenders and whom DPD offered a helping hand through the Greater Detroit Centers for Working Families … none committed a crime in the pilot project area in the 120-day period.
“It worked because there are deep roots in this community and it focuses on suspicious behavior instead of suspicious people,” said Inspector Vicki Yost. “It was (police) personnel and revenue neutral and about opening up dialog so citizens feel they can reach out to us.”
This pilot now will become part of everyday policing in the Grandmont/Rosedale neighborhood, Yost said. In addition, Godbee hopes to extend the program throughout Detroit. “This is the beginning of what we want to see policing be in the city of Detroit, across the entire expanse of the city,” he told the Grandmont/Rosedale neighborhood audience.
Good plan I think, and a great step toward fighting crime.