In 2016, Detroit regained the title as the most violent big city in America, seizing the distinction from St. Louis which displaced Detroit the previous year. The revelation helped to establish violence as a continuing and disturbing fact of Detroit life. Residents are justified in asking whether they – or the absence of bold, aggressive policing policies are part of the problem.
According to the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime report, 13,705 violent crimes were reported in Detroit last year. That’s a more than a 15-percent increase from the year before among cities with populations over 100,000. Detroit has few peers when it comes to residents being assaulted, raped, robbed, burglarized or caught in the cross-fire of gangs and the drug trade.
Since the 1970s, Detroit has worn the title of “murder capital” on more than one occasion. Detroit’s 303 murders last year came close, but did not lead the nation. However, bustling traffic around hospital emergency rooms and funeral homes provide another appalling indicator of the fatal fire and its heavy casualties.
Police Chief James Craig took issue with the FBI’s numbers. His downplaying of the stats was tantamount to giving Detroiters a physiological placebo. It was also a weak attempt to mask the fact that he hasn’t been able to deploy a comprehensive anti-crime strategy. Even substituting his numbers for the FBI’s, Detroit is still an extremely dangerous place.
The problem boils down to this: not enough criminals are placed in jeopardy and too few are exposed to the full force of the law. Thus, by neglect, the city tolerates lawlessness and pays a cost in the uninterrupted suffering of victims who struggle against the odds to survive.
The devastating human impact notwithstanding, Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council have yet to show much foresight or resolve on how to weather the carnage looming on the horizon. Both have the responsibility to assess the police department’s crime fighting apparatus, management and deployment of its forces. Supposedly, they budget funds to match the crisis. There is no higher government priority. Yet in this city, it is as though elected officials are insulated, if not indifferent to the need to be accountable.
It helps to have political leadership with perception, imagination, discipline, and a coherent vision of what can and should be done. But the resolve of Detroiter’s to compel the mayor, council and the police chief to control crime, also leaves much to be desired.
Detroiters want their children to grow up safe and secure. They want government to create the environment in which people are willing to live and businesses willing to locate. Curtailing the population hemorrhage requires a significant improvement in their life prospects. Upwardly mobile families, after all, tend to locate where safety is the rule, not the exception.
Nothing stops the heartbeat of a city vying to be relevant more than the unabated crime trend. And if we start from the premise that any city that can’t perform this basic function probably can’t do anything else well, a real Detroit comeback is not in sight – it is in jeopardy.
When officials fail in their obligation to protect its residents, they forfeit any legitimate claim to the allegiance of the people. Mayor Duggan and the City Council will put together a real response to the violence when vigilant voters begin to oust those who fail to perform. Otherwise, Detroiters get no more and no less than they deserve.