Department tries new way to fight crime

DETROIT (WXYZ) - - It may not seem like it – but the murder rate is going down across the country. The problem is, the number of homicides that detectives are solving has also been dropping, especially in Detroit.

That’s bad news for victim’s families.

Solving murders in Detroit is a tough business. For example in 2008, Detroit police say they solved only 34% of their homicides. And police admit – that just isn’t good enough.

Between the guns, the drugs, and the senseless killings -- Detroit has earned its reputation as murder central. There are actually 30 fewer homicides so far this year in Detroit than in 2009. But up until recently, the rate at which detectives closed those cases has been awful – hovering around 37% during an 8 year stretch. For the families of homicide victims -- that low closure rate is painful.

Vicky Cupp/Kyle Smith’s Mother:
"The holidays are just horrible – they’re the worst. I mean, she called me everyday – it was always I love you mom."

Vicky Cupp’s daughter, Kyle Smith, was the young woman gunned down during Detroit’s Super Bowl weekend celebration in 2006. The hard working 24 year old was from rural Tecumseh – but she loved living in the big city.

Vicky Cupp/Kyle Smith’s Mother:
"I’d hate to see somebody else… go through the pain I went through, losing my daughter."

Vicky says even though detectives came up with a person of interest – no one has been charged with the killing.

Vicky Cupp/Kyle Smith’s Mother:
"I would love to see it solved."

The national average for closing homicide cases is about 61%. So why is Detroit’s so low?
For starters – Detroit no longer has its own crime lab.

Lt. Dwane Blackmon/DPD Homicide:
"Sometimes you don’t have people who are willing to come forward and speak."

Homicide Commanding Officer Lt. Dwayne Blackmon says one of the biggest things that hurts homicide cases is Detroit’s pervasive anti-snitch attitude. And Motown isn’t the only place where people don’t talk.

According to federal crime statistics, Chicago’s homicide case closure rate is also low - only 35%. Chicago like Detroit – has an extremely high volume of murders: from 1980 through 2008 – they had 19,699.

Detroit during that same time had 14,460 homicides.

Philadelphia isn’t far behind us with 10,719 murders. They used to be called Killadelphia -- but now Philly has an overall case closure rate of 72%.

How did they do it? Their Deputy Police Commissioner says department leadership has to make solving cases a priority.

Richard Ross/Philadelphia Police:
"It’s working the homicides diligently, day in and day out."

Detroit is now aiming to surpass Philly’s closure rate with a whole new way to tackle crime.

Insp. Eric Jones/DPD Mobile Strike Force:
"We go where the violence is."

Inspector Eric Jones heads up Detroit’s new Mobile Strike Force – a group of elite officers.

Insp. Eric Jones/DPD Mobile Strike Force:
"It’s constantly in your face, and you look at the numbers, are they going up, are they going down? I live by this."

Each morning, Inspector Jones looks at where the crime happened in the last 24 hours, then he floods that area with the strike force.

Action News reporter Heather Catallo recently got to see the strike force in action. Within minutes, Officers Derald Penn and Chad Hopkins bust a guy they say is selling marijuana at this east side gas station.

Offc. Chad Hopkins/Detroit Police:
"We were on him so quick he didn’t have enough time to go – Stash it? Stash it."

Offc. Fred Person/Detroit Police:
"What’s up big fella – you got a drivers license?"

Later Officers Fred Person and Myron Watkins – ticket two young men for having no ID.

Offc. Fred Person/Detroit Police:
"Hey, y’all got any more marijuana up here, or y’all smoked it all?"

Their car gets towed, which police say goes a long way in preventing gun crimes.

Offc. Fred Person/Detroit Police:
"Cause if they don’t have a car to do it – most of them are, they’re not going to walk anywhere to do it."

I watched as they also busted a guy they say was selling drugs from this abandoned house.

Offc. Myron Watkins/Detroit Police:
"She was signaling him."

Offc. Fred Person/Detroit Police:
"What’s going on with you today, player?"

Offc. Myron Watkins/Detroit Police:
"And what do we have here? You have about 80 packs of heroine… and you might have about 30 dimes. Crack cocaine."

For the Mobile Strike Force – the more drug dealers they can bust, the more guns they can take off the street – that slows down the fatal shootings. And that reduction in crime frees the homicide detectives to finish the cases they already have.

Lt. Dwane Blackmon/DPD Homicide:
"Every case needs to be solved. Every family needs to have some closure."

Kyle Smith’s mother couldn’t agree more.

Vicky Cupp/Kyle Smith’s Mother:
"I would like to have some closure on it."

Detectives say their person of interest in Kyle Smith’s case is now behind bars for something else – and they’re hoping someone will come forward with some new information that links him directly to her murder.

Detroit police say since the Mobile Strike Force has been in place, the department is solving around 60% of the homicides.

You can see more of our ride along with the Mobile Strike Force in the video player.