Best if Detroiters don’t get too excited by the expected arrival of new Police Chief James Craig. He’s leaving violence plagued Cincinnati and coming to the Motor City where shootings and murders are multiplied by at least four. Unless Craig can pull a novel state-of-the-art strategy out of the box, he’ll witness four times as many murders he couldn’t prevent.
Chief Craig has put crime reduction at the top of his list of priorities. No doubt it was at the top of his agenda in Cincinnati,Ohio’s most crime-ridden city. There’s no need to detail the dire crime statistics. But homicides are on a clip to be up 50 percent over last year despite gun buy-backs, and catchy anti-crime programs like the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), a multi-agency community collaborative effort.
Detroit crime is also critical. Surveys place it at the top of public concerns. Children are frequently and randomly gunned down in their own yards. The danger that residents are likely to become a victim of a violent act increases exponentially as criminals roam far and wide. The spread of crime breeds fear and accelerates flight.
It remains to be seen whether Craig is a good day-to-day manager or whether he has a coherent law enforcement strategy. Regardless, he should start with the Police Department hierarchy, which is overdue for a major restructuring.
Detroit has not waged a noble war against the dangerous dance of crime and violence in part because the city’s law enforcement arm is generally looked upon as poorly managed and in perpetual disorder. Not all of this reputation is attributable to recurring malfunctions at the top. But the current situation makes a compelling case for cleaning up and slimming down at 1300 Beaubien.
Police misconduct at the highest levels has been a department trademark since the late, discredited Chief Bill Hart, who raided the now infamous Secret Service Fund that was established to pay informants for his personal use. In the interim, the department was placed under the watchful eye of the U.S. Justice Department for, among other things, leading the nation in the murder of civilians. More recently, there’s been a string of chiefs who couldn’t keep their pants zipped long enough to implement an effective and aggressive anti-crime strategy.
Unabated homicides and high-level police mismanagement suggests the Police Commission — or previous chiefs — have preferred not to offend enough brass or officers who placed themselves on the wrong side of the “thin blue line” of police credibility. The next chief will have a tough time restoring morale, integrity and improving the department’s image with just words as a defense.
In the meantime, Detroitresidents have ample reason to be skeptical that any restructuring will have an impact on the streets anytime soon. Since there’s no money in the cash-strapped city to hire more cops, the crime reduction pledge from the new police chief will, by necessity, be centered on redeploying a shrinking police force. And with depleted ranks, Detroit’s homicide closure rate and police response time won’t improve.
The conventional strategy is incident-oriented – a citizen reports an incident and police respond. The city, however, is at the limit of the 911 emergency call system. Predators know that the capacity for a rapid response that might result in apprehension of a felon is seriously deficient. But there’s a larger issue.
Community crime occurs only to the extent that citizens tolerate it. Some of the residents who are expected to be the eyes and ears for their neighbor’s well-being also contribute to the criminal breeding process by neglect or indifference.
So if a renewed sense of community can’t be summoned to harness violence the new chief may be left with a less desirable option: Call in reinforcements and declare Marshal Law.
Otherwise, Chief Craig’s legacy will be that he was powerless to prevent ever-mounting casualties in an un-winnable war on crime.