What it will take to get a grip on Detroit’s crime

 detroit riots

Several days ago I raised a series of questions regarding the 1967 riot in Detroit. I specifically wanted to hear from those who witnessed firsthand how military forces were brought in to restore order. The range of answers proved quite informative. 

First and foremost, I learned that contrary to popular belief it was not the Michigan National Guard that restored order in Detroit during the 1967 riot in Detroit. In fact, the National Guard did little to calm the situation and a great deal to pour gasoline onto the burning flames in the city. The National Guardsmen were viewed as hostile, racist, agitators. This opinion is virtually unanimous amongst the residents I surveyed on this issue. 

When it came to restoring order it was certainly not the National Guard who led the effort to quell the violence in Detroit in 1967. Instead, it was a squadron of troops from the 82nd Airborne. The group was well trained, diverse, understood urban environments socially, and ingratiated themselves into the community as friends and protectors. Based on the comments I heard from those who experienced their presence, it did not feel like an occupation. Someone even reported that they organized pick-up basketball games with neighborhood teenagers as a way of connecting to the community. This suggests that it is possible to seek federal military help to stem the rising tide of violence in Detroit and have it effectively delivered.

      It has been generally accepted by  law enforcement professionals that a bigger police force is needed to get control of the crime in Detroit. It is apparent that budget cuts and redeployment of officers is a step in the right direction. However, no amount of budget slashing or redeployment will make up for the shortage of officers Detroit is currently experiencing. We simply do not have the resources to hire more officers. The state will not or cannot provide these resources. The federal government can provide help and recently has, but still it is not enough. Again, as we search and apply for funding the crime wave continues and the quality of life for Detroiters is further eroded.

     Here are a few alarming but generally accepted facts:

 1. In the last 8 years 3,313 people were killed in Detroit. According to the Detroit Free Press, that is more than the soldiers killed in Afghanistan in a full decade of fighting.

2. In 2011 344 people were killed in Detroit, up from 308 in 2010.

3. In 2012 as we enter the halfway point, 135 people have been killed in Detroit. These murders include an infant, a 12 year old, and an 84 year old man.

4. Detroit does not have enough officers on the streets to adequately address the issue of crime. Based on a dwindling tax base cause by a continuing population exodus and rampant unemployment, it is not likely that the financial resources to hire more police will be available anytime soon.

5. Peaceful, law abiding Detroiters are overwhelmingly armed because of their fear of being victimized by criminals and related lack of confidence in the Detroit police department to protect them.  

6. There is a direct link between high unemployment and high crime. An influx of jobs would go along way in reducing crime.

There can be no sound argument against the conclusion we are in the midst of a crime crisis. We simply have to call upon and expect bold leadership on this issue. If we do not, we risk what is beginning to happen currently, we risk becoming immune to the horror of crime plaguing our city. We have to be shocked, we have to be outraged and we have to have a plan. We can argue the merits and specifics of the plan but here is the plan I propose:

 Detroit Crime Reduction Strategy

 (7 point summary)

We can no longer be in denial that the levels of crime in Detroit are out of control. There is a sense of lawlessness amongst criminals and a sense of helplessness amongst residents. We must move aggressively toward a solution. (All timeline references are based on the date July 31, 2012).

 1. Led by local elected leadership, government, private corporations, foundations and philanthropic organizations must come together and form a sustainable fund for employment. Young people in the age category most associated with violent crime will be the target of the jobs program. Evidence of substance use and prior criminal records will not be barriers to obtaining these jobs. The employment process will include a substance abuse treatment component. The jobs being funded will be activities local government can no longer provide due to a lack of funding. This includes but is not limited to grass cutting, clean up, gardening, debris hauling, graffiti removal, and building repairs. A separate funding effort will be put in place to train advanced workers on demolition with the goal of having grant dollars pay these crews to demolish blighted homes. This program must be underway within 6 months.

 2. Led by the Detroit Police Department, service organizations will be enlisted to provide training to local communities on organizing and sustaining neighborhood patrols and watches. This program must be underway within 6 months.

 3. A new ordinance will be drafted and enacted by Detroit City Council prohibiting establishments such as gas stores, convenience stores, and liquor stores from operating beyond 11:00 pm without private security and well lit parking lots. Establishments without security and proper lighting will be subject to limited liability to the victim of a violent crime which occurs on the premises. The liability will require they pay a certain hefty sum into a crime victim fund. (We will dispatch a parallel effort in the State Legislature through the Detroit Delegation of the Michigan House and Senate) The ordinance must be drafted and passed within 90 days. The House and Senate version within one year.

4. Led by the ATF Bureau and comprised of ATF, DEA, U.S. Justice Department, Detroit Police, Wayne County Sheriff, Michigan State Police and the FBI, a joint task force with a minimum of 100 officers assigned will be created to deal solely with the issue of illegal firearms in Detroit. This task force must be underway within 90 days.

 5. Led by the Wayne County Prosecutors office and the state legislature, failure to pay fines, costs, fees or restitution in crimes which are property or traffic oriented shall no longer result in the wrong doer being jailed. Instead, infrastructure projects such as grass cutting and park clean up will be a sufficient substitution for cash payments. Those assigned will work jointly with the employed crews. The goal is to reduce space in jails for violent offenders. This program should be underway within 1 year.

 6. Act on the current Detroit Fire Commissioners’ proposal to bring Naval engineering units to demolish large swaths of abandoned homes in Detroit. Engage the Navy for this function within 90 days.  

 7. Led by the Chief of Police for Detroit, determine the number of additional officers needed on the ground in Detroit to adequately fight crime. Once this number has been determined, request that the federal government deploy specially trained military units for peace keeping activity in the city of Detroit. The units will need a great degree of advance  training similar to that used to prepare the units for peace keeping initiatives overseas. The units will work in tandem with the Detroit Police Department but remain under the command of military leadership. Once a substantial decrease in violent crime is empirically demonstrated, the deployment would end. This request should be made within 90 days.

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