Detroit Citizens Protect Themselves After Police Force Decimated

Chris Christoff, Bloomberg, May 30, 2013

As crime hobbles Detroit’s attempts to revive itself, the city is bolstering its police department by having unarmed citizens patrol the streets in a program that costs less than annual salaries and benefits for three officers.

Volunteers given radios and matching T-shirts help officers protect neighborhoods where burglaries, thefts and thugs drive away people who can’t rely on a police force that lost a quarter of its strength since 2009. With 25 patrols on the streets, the city hopes to add three each year. Meanwhile, the homicide rate continues rising.


“Nobody’s going to move back to Detroit as long as people don’t have a sense of security,” said volunteer Lorenzo Blount during his morning rounds in the west-side Grandmont area. “That’s what we’re trying to add in our neighborhood in our little way.”

Detroit once was an economic powerhouse fueled by the auto industry with 1.8 million residents in the 1950s. Now, its 701,000 residents live amid a landscape of blight, poverty, unemployment and crime. {snip}


Police ranks there fell to about 2,500 from 3,350 in 2009. Interim Chief Chester Logan said in April the city must hire to replenish a force losing 25 officers a month to retirement.

In 2011, the dwindling department took over the 30-year-old neighborhood volunteer program to forge a more direct relationship and institute tighter standards, said Second Deputy Melvin Turner, who oversees the groups. Members, who now must pass criminal background checks, are paid from a $270,000 annual fund for mileage and incidental costs such as vehicle signs.


Community groups are campaigning for the city to allow them to levy assessments on homeowners to pay for more patrols. A majority of homeowners would have to approve the flat fee, which would be mandatory.


While homicides in Detroit rose last year to 411 from 344 the year before, other crimes were down 2.6 percent, according to Mayor Dave Bing.

Still, the 16,000 burglaries in 2011 compare with only 12,000 in Philadelphia, a city with more than double Detroit’s population, according to an FBI report. For all property crimes, Detroit ranked sixth–6,144 per 100,000 residents–among U.S. cities with populations of 300,000 or more.


Turner said neighborhood patrols document break-ins, vandalism, suspected drug dens and “strippers” who rip metal from homes to sell as scrap. They’re to call 911 if they see a crime in progress.


To be certified, neighborhood patrols must have 12 volunteers who receive police-approved training, Turner said. Vehicles must have at least two volunteers who may not carry firearms or other weapons.


Citizen patrols aren’t the only effort to bolster the force.

Eight area companies, including GM, Ford Motor Co (F). and Chrysler Group LLC, agreed to donate $8 million for 100 new patrol cars and 23 ambulances.

One business district this year will pay about $200,000 to hire off-duty officers, armed and using city cruisers, to guard a main thoroughfare. Wayne County sheriff’s deputies patrol some streets. And a joint city, state and federal program seeks to get repeat offenders off the streets.


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