DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — It’s no cause to celebrate, but Detroit can say something that most major cities can’t: after murders soared in 2020, the city saw criminal homicides fall 5% in 2021.
Detroit’s reduction bucks a national trend, with more than a dozen major cities reporting all-time highs in homicides last year.
Non-fatal shootings also fell by 9% in the city, according to DPD, while robberies fell by 17%.
The numbers, which are preliminary, could change slightly in the coming days as officers continue to investigate crimes occurring at the end of the year.
“I think we’re making progress,” said asst. police chief David LeValley, who points out that a reduction in homicides looked like a longshot just six months ago.
Back in June, murders were up 27% in the city compared to 2020.
Chief James Craig resigned over the summer to run for governor and was replaced by James White.
“When Chief (James) White got here, one of the things he did right off the rip was put out a five-point plan,” LeValley said, “(and) one of the biggest pieces of that plan was to significantly increase our visibility.”
Back then, Mayor Duggan approved 4,000 hours of overtime every week during the summer to keep more officers on the street, something LeValley says he expects to continue in 2022.
Detroit’s reduction in homicides comes as nearby cities like Toledo, Indianapolis and Columbus set all-time murder records while the nation’s biggest cities—including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston—all saw homicides rise.
“I’m not excited, I’m pleased,” said longtime Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Bell, striking a cautiously optimistic tone. “Chief White is trying to address this issue in terms of more visibility that is very helpful.”
Extending overtime is helpful, he said, but not a long-term solution. Today, the department has about 150 budgeted positions that are unfilled, and DPD has historically struggled to prevent newer officers from jumping to nearby departments that pay better.
Not all the city’s crime stats were trending in the right direction, though. Motor vehicle thefts increased by 19%, while aggravated assaults increased by about 2%.
The number of sexual assaults increased by 17%, but DPD says that number is artificially high.
During the lockdown months of 2020, many rapes went unreported, the department says, because children were out of school and people avoided hospitals—both places where signs of sexual abuse are often first noticed.
Regardless of which way the numbers move, Bell says the fact remains that Detroit is one of the most violent cities in the country. Changing that will take years of reductions in crime—not just one.
“In reality, no one is coming to us and saying you’re doing a great job in terms of fighting crime,” Bell said.