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Crime in Detroit neighborhoods: Where are the police?

Jun 28, 2017

Detroit’s reputation as a high crime city has not gone away, but its crime rate is down substantially. It’s been falling since the 1980s. But there are areas of the city that are not as safe as others.

Detroit Neighborhood Police Officer (NPO) DeAndre Gaines at the Department’s Fifth Precinct picked me up for a ride-along in his patrol car. We headed to the MorningSide neighborhood on the city’s east side.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This year I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in MorningSide. Some of the business owners and residents there have complained about the crime rate in their neighborhood. Gaines shakes his head.

“MorningSide is still a good area. You know, everywhere in the city you’re going to have your pockets of crime. You know, that’s everywhere. But, I wouldn’t say MorningSide is no different than any of the other areas in the city of Detroit,” Gaines said as we turned onto East Warren Avenue, one of the business strips in the neighborhood.

The crime rate numbers for the neighborhood by itself were not made available. However, the Detroit Police Department provided crime stats for all the precincts and the number of crimes in the Fifth Precinct were comparatively average. Five of the twelve precincts had lower numbers of crime. However, those raw numbers are deceiving.

The population is different in each precinct. When you calculate the number of crimes per 10,000 residents, the Fifth Precinct has the second highest crime rate among the precincts. Only the Third Precinct, which stretches from New Center to Mexicantown, had a higher crime rate.

But, crime is down across the city. Last year, for the entire city of Detroit, the murder rate did increase slightly, but the rate of other violent crimes continued to decline, including in the Fifth Precinct.

David Brown is a retired Detroit Fire Department Captain. He lives in the MorningSide neighborhood. He'd like to see police patrol the neighborhood more often.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

As we drove around the residential parts of the neighborhood, Officer Gaines spotted someone he knew. We stopped to talk to retired Fire Department Captain David Brown in his front yard. I told him what his neighbors had been telling me, that they don’t see police officers in the neighborhood very often.

“That’s true,” Brown said. I nodded to NPO Gaines and said, “You’re talking to one right now.”

Brown laughed and said, “Yeah, I’m talking to one. You see one on occasion, but there’s not enough of them.”

Brown thinks too often the police are tied up answering 9-1-1 calls and emergencies to patrol the residential streets as much as he’d like to see.

We also stopped by Zena Knight’s house. She’s the block captain. She thinks crime is up in MorningSide, but she does not think it’s because police aren’t around enough.

“It’s getting worse. It’s about them not respecting the police. A lady just got killed at the corner house last Saturday. I can’t give you an answer to what is really causing the problem right now, but it’s not for the like of them,” she said with a heavy sigh.

She was looking right at Gaines as she spoke. She made it clear that she thinks he’s one of the good guys.

The City of Detroit does seem to be at the right level of officers on the street.

According to FBI statistics, Detroit actually has more than the average number of cops for its population. In 2015, in larger cities in the Midwest, for every 10,000 people the average was 29 officers. Detroit had 33 officers.

Gaines says they are there in the neighborhoods.

The MorningSide neighborhood is in the Detroit Police Department's Fifth Precinct.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“We are patrolling the area at least, at least five days a week, various hours depending on where the complaints take us. We also do what we call ‘Safe Passage’ which is assisting the children getting to school safe. I do that along with NPO (Eric) Scott. So, we’re out there morning and evening making sure this community is safe,” Gaines said.

And that’s just the NPOs, the community policing face of the police force. Other patrol officers are also working 24/7.

It seems reasonable that even though the city has a good number of police, with its crime rate generally among the top five in the nation, the police are just busy, too busy to do those slow rolls through the residential areas of the neighborhood that the residents like to see.

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.