There is a troubling contradiction in the crime stats announced by Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. The city experienced a 12 percent increase in homicides from 2010 to 2011, he said, but recorded an overall decrease in serious crime.
I wasn’t sure whether he considered murder a serious crime, whether something was lost in translation, or there is a credibility gap in Chief Godbee’s crime statistics.
The chief would also have you believe his department is taking a huge bite out of crime. What didn’t grab the headlines, though, was that more citizens are settling their own scores with criminals. This is clear evidence that Detroiters are losing confidence in the ability of this chief – and his police force — to protect them. So there also is a credibility gap in the chief’s crime-fighting initiatives.
Last year’s jump in homicides — from 308 victims in 2010 to 344 in 2011 – was no surprise. Detroit has held the dubious distinction of “murder capital” almost every year since the mid-1970s. And the chief appeared to gloss over the fact there were also 1,252 nonfatal shootings last year. But these, I suppose, were not “serious” shootings.
There were fewer reported incidents of rape, assault, robbery, burglary, larceny and auto theft than the year before. But this meager drop in overall crime is nothing to write home about. One must keep in mind that these decreases came from an extremely high plateau. No way do they indicate that the city is notably safer. By any calculation, Detroit is more dangerous than the chief is willing to admit. Why else would half the City Council have concealed gun permits and Mayor Dave Bing is chauffeured around with armed security in a bulletproof car?
The unabated crime spree even has more residents resorting to extreme self-defense tactics. In 2011, Detroit reported 34 justifiable homicides, according to Fox2 News Reporter Charlie LaDuff, an 80 percent increase over the previous year. Word from the Wayne County Clerk’s office is that they can’t process gun registrations and concealed weapons permits fast enough to keep pace with the extraordinary demand.
This rush to arm and self-administer justice would not be encouraged or condoned under normal circumstances. But in the current lawless environment, it is easy to believe these options have broad public support.
Many residents are apt to nod their heads in approval, glorifying potential victims who get off the first deadly shot against a predator. More than a dangerous and disturbing precedent for society, though, the rise in such incidents is also an indictment of Chief Godbee’s enforcement failures.
People inclined to shoot first and ask questions later usually do so because they can no longer rely on conventional law enforcement for protection. Detroit police are seen as being incapable of addressing crime or arresting criminals. The Police Department is caught between a breakdown in precinct response procedures and general law enforcement, which aids and abets the abdication of its responsibility to fight crime.
When the perception is that criminals operate more or less with impunity, respect for the law is undermined in the minds of decent citizens and the criminal element. Unresponsive cops, after all, send the message that no one cares.
Protection of human life and safety and making neighborhoods safe is the first duty of government. There can be no comprises or trade-offs. The appropriate action is to use whatever tools are available – new police deployment strategies, reopening prisons, moral example and the criminal law. But the first significant step is a management/deployment strategy highlighted by hiring more cops and putting them where crime is.
The chief’s optimistic crime report does little to restore public confidence in his less than vigilant crime-fighting commitment. So don’t be surprised that frightened, increasingly vigilante-minded residents continue to send the message to City Hall that safe neighborhoods will be restored by any means necessary.