DETROIT—The number of violent crimes reported in Detroit increased nearly 20 percent in the first half of this year, according to a report Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The increase follows four years in which the total number of violent crimes, including murders, rapes, robberies and assaults, had dropped steadily in Detroit, which as recently as 2003 had a violent crime rate higher than any of the nation’s other major cities. The report covers the six months before a budget deficit prompted the city in August to make even deeper cuts in its police force.
Experts suggested the increase in Detroit, and similar jumps across the Midwest, could be tied to factors ranging from economic pressures to cutbacks in cities’ police departments. But they say there are no simple answers.
“I wonder if it could be due to reductions in the number of police, given the lag in the Midwest’s economic recovery,” said Edmund F. McGarrell, director of the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. But he does not think the region’s battered economy alone can take the blame for the increases.
City police acknowledged the rise and said it appears to be the consequence of an attempt to constrain Detroit’s drug trade.
“Whenever you clamp down on narcotics, you have people involved in that type of activity who get caught up in the competition,” said Deputy Chief James Tate, a police spokesman.
The news is another public relations problem for a city that will host Super Bowl XL in January.
In August, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration laid off 150 officers and announced plans to restructure the department by merging some precincts. Tate said the layoffs came among officers who held desk jobs, and that the restructuring had put at least 100 additional officers on the city streets.
Kilpatrick’s communications director, Ceeon Quiett, said the police restructuring is a “work in progress,” but stressed that it had not taken officers away from patrols.
“As we look at these statistics, we have to keep them within the larger context that for the past couple years, Detroit has had its lowest crime rate in over 40 years,” Quiett said. “One homicide is too many. One violent crime is too many. But we have seen visible progress over the years.”
Tate said the increase reflected in the FBI numbers had slackened later in the year, and that year-to-date violent crime numbers in the city are comparable to last year’s figures. Detroit’s violent crime rate dropped 15 percent between 2003 and 2004, according to the most recent complete figures from the FBI. Its rate ranked eighth among major U.S. cities last year; the year before that it topped the most-violent list.
Detroit resident Irene Turek, 80, said the increase in crime is worrisome, but moving out of the city isn’t an option.
“It’s frightening, but at the same time you have no choice,” said Turek, a retired retail sales clerk.
In the suburbs, Livonia Police Chief Robert Stevenson said his city’s 10 percent drop in violent crime reflects its historically low crime rate. The total number of violent crimes reported in the city during the first half of the year dropped to 69 from 77. Its property crime rate also declined.
“We don’t get a lot of those crimes, so any change either way makes the percentages change a lot,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said he was happy with the number, especially since the department has lost 20 officers to budget cuts in the past three years. “I think our crime statistics are traditionally low because of a lot of citizen involvement and a proactive Police Department,” he said.
(Ed. Note: According to the 2000 Census, the population of Livonia is 94.14% white)