When appointed, Detroit Police Chief James Craig placed violence reduction at the top of his list of priorities. Since then, he has repeatedly said he can’t do it by himself –he needs help from the community. He’s right of course.
But does he mean the community must blow the whistle on the sons and daughters who are engaged in the lawlessness? Or must Detroiters take steps to interrupt the criminal breeding process by which they recklessly sow the seeds of their own destruction?
This much we know: When it comes to crime and violence, Detroit is in a class by itself. The city is second to none in young men murdering each other.
There’s also ample evidence that Detroit has waged a less than noble war against the dangerous dance of violence. Officials claim crime is on the decline, but obviously not enough to prevent Detroit from being America’s most dangerous city with populations of more than 100,000. So some skepticism is in order.
The police department, for example, uses data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR). The UCR is based on “reported” crimes submitted to centralized state agencies by local police departments. It does not cover all possible criminal events.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) compiles a more respected barometer of criminal activity. The NCVS measures crimes not reported to police as well as those that are reported. By some estimates, less than 40 percent of all crimes are reported to law enforcement agencies, including nearly half of all violent crimes.
There’s another reason to be suspect of figures released by the department. Taking into account Detroit’s precipitous population decline, crime rates may actually be on the rise.
Probably the best measure of the lack of progress in the fight against crime is the attitudes of the Detroiters themselves. Public opinion polls rate crime as the No. 1 problem. This suggests residents aren’t convinced the city is safer.
A case can also be made that the pervasive crime wave that continues to erupt and surge throughout Detroit is less about the shortcomings of the police department than about a collapse of the social structures that once made communities safe and livable. Now impotent, the basic institutions that traditionally provided the morals and values for young people — –family, churches and schools — have been depleted.
Stable neighborhoods rely on parents to set the first example for good behavior, honesty and character. Given the enormity of Detroit’s “absent father, single mother syndrome,” it is not surprising there is so much violence. Many families are too dysfunctional and vulnerable to be a positive influence on their children.
The church community is disengaged from the predators. Schools are barely able to teach the ABCs. Proof of the bankrupt strategy of politicians is the high number of uneducated and aimless young black men who end up on a collision course with the same cops hired to protect crime-ridden streets. So-called community leaders seek a government solution.
Arresting this moral deterioration will be a formidable task. Flooding neighborhoods with more cops would be futile. Community policing will prove to be a lot of expensive social work, insufficient to cope with the hellish carnage occurring outside the view or reach of beat cops.
There’s little that cops in particular, and the justice system at-large, can do. The responsibility of government is basically limited to the punishment end of the dilemma. The problem is at the front-end.
Unless and until a way is found to interrupt the process in which homegrown criminals are perversely bred to prey on their neighbors, there will be no renewals in morality or respect for life. The chaos will continue to tear at the soul of the city and guarantee that Detroit’s defining legacy will never again resemble neighborhood peace.