How has policing in Detroit and the City’s efforts to reduce gun violence changed under the present leadership? “American Black Journal” revisits a conversation from the 2022 Mackinac Policy Conference with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Police Chief James White.
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Host Stephen Henderson moderates a conversation with Duggan and White at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual conference focusing on violence, crime and policing in Detroit.
Mike Duggan, Mayor, City of Detroit: Had an issue of violence in the city for decades. But if you look at what’s happened in America since COVID and we’ve studied it, violent crime has soared. You’ve had shootings, homicide double, some states, triple. And Chief White and I are very much data-driven. There is no question what is causing the post-COVID violence. Is it that the courts shut down? There are no jury trials, which means that prisoners are backed up into jail.
Mike Duggan: We had COVID in jails so they released prisoners. I don’t know what we’ve got. Probably a couple of thousand out on tethers today. And what is happening is people who have been charged with gun crimes, people, you know, in the neighborhood that the cops caught, they got caught in a gun crime and they’re still walking the streets. Two years later, you’re starting to think, “I need to carry a gun myself for protection.”
Mike Duggan: And so what’s happened across this country is a lot of folks are carrying guns that didn’t want to carry guns. And now every single inter-personal conflict is turning into violence. We are seeing drug turf wars, the kind of things we have seen 20 years ago. That’s not what we’re seeing. And so what the Chief and I have done and we speak the same language, the key to reducing crime is not to arrest people and lock them up. It’s to change decisions.
Mike Duggan: The moment that individual sticks the gun under their waistband and walks out of the house in the morning, we’ve lost.. Because something’s going to happen. And so everything we are doing, is saying to people, leave the gun at home. And what you have seen and we were just at the White House because Detroit is down so far this year, the end of May, 20% in homicides and shootings from a year ago.
Mike Duggan: We stand out in the country. Every Chief in America is talking to us. Now, Chief White doesn’t let me talk about this, because summer is coming and nobody declares victory before summer’s coming. But the fact is, the steps that this department has taken to get people to make different decisions is making a difference.
Mike Duggan: And if we can build on it and the courts are being cooperative, Prosecutor Worthy is being cooperative, Don Ison and the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been phenomenal in this strategy. It’s going to get better and better. I really feel that. And I feel that the way this Chief has this department going, we’re going to be okay.
Stephen Henderson: Chief, you released a five-point plan for policing the city. Talk about that plan and talk about how that might look different from what we were doing before.
Chief James White, Detroit Police Department: Yeah. I mean, we talk about using data to drive our resources. You know, you can’t arrest your way out of crime. You’ve got to be innovative. You’ve got to use technology, you’ve got to do deployment. You’ve got to look at ways of policing smarter. The kids, I call them the kids, but, you know, they’re using technology now to get around what we’re doing.
Chief James White: They’re using Instagram. You know, we’ve got a drifting and drag racing problem where, you know, the draft, the drag racers and the drifters are picking parts of our community to come out, endanger their community with these vehicles driving, you know, very recklessly and using social media, which has no culpability, by the way. But that’s a whole other conversation to talk about.. Let’s get in these areas. Let’s do this behavior. Let’s get these likes and, you know, let’s make money off of these likes, which we’ve just found out.
Chief James White: But we’ve got a real-time crime center. And with that real-time crime center, we’ve got civilian analysts who are super smart. They use our technology. They get into these chat groups, private groups. In fact, most recently, we had one where the kids were meeting up and we had gotten a little ahead of the curve and somewhat sophisticated in how we were tracking them.
Chief James White: Well, they got even more sophisticated, so they started charging for the maps that they were going to drag race. Well, we had our analysts buy the app and pay and go in and infiltrate that group. So we would be there waiting on them. And so, you know, we have to be smart. We have to deploy our five-point plan.
Chief James White: With that in mind, that, as the Mayor indicated, you know, some of these criminals are smart. I mean, if they did something else for a living, they would be very successful business people. They just choose to break the law. So they’re using innovation and technology to not be arrested. And so our strategy focuses on really the key areas that we’re struggling with or was struggling with.
Chief James White: Not that we’re declaring victory by any means, but we’ve had some degree of success. And one of the things is crowd control and crowd management. You know, when I walked in last year, we had an uptick of 44% in nonfatal shootings. And that was a problem. And we knew that people are bringing guns to areas where people congregate. They would have very simple conflict, resolve it with the gun. They were, you bump into me, you step on my shoes, I’m going to shoot you.
Chief James White: Impulse decision-making. So what we decided to do.. Look at those areas, pinpoint where the high likelihood were in our communities and deploy in those communities where there was a likelihood of the behavior happening. We had some success with that. We took a lot of guns off the street.
Chief James White: And but again, with the course being closed, it’s a turnstile. They go into the court system. Many of them get a tether. They walk right out their door and engage in similar behavior. So, you know, we were able to do some things.
Chief James White: The other issue or the other area that we decided to focus on besides drag racing was just general traffic enforcement. When you see officers in communities doing traffic stops, you see those lights on. It changes behavior, it changes decision making.
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