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Cops and robbers

Week 41 of the occupation

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Everyone who lives in Detroit knows crime is a problem. We are all scarred by it. In my very ordinary neighborhood, there have been four murders in the last two years. An elderly woman was beaten in her home. A father of six was shot for his cell phone while walking home from the store. A teenage boy was shot in a parking lot. An unknown man was found dead in the driveway of the day care center. These stories don’t make the news. They become the background of our lives, surrounded by lesser stories of break-ins, carjackings and petty theft.

No one thinks our neighborhoods, schools, parks, streets, churches or homes are as safe as they should be.

But something is happening in the way crime is being used by the emergency manager to intensify fear, increase feelings of powerlessness and justify extreme measures.

Kevyn Orr routinely touts public safety as a reason for his schemes. In almost every mainstream media account of the bankruptcy effort, we are told Orr’s plans will give us a safer city. The only public official to testify before the bankruptcy judge was our police chief, James Craig.

In national media accounts, we are told Detroit is the murder capital and the average police response time is nearly an hour.

The push to take out another loan, float a bond issue, sacrifice the pensions of our elders, give up some democracy, are all couched in a sense of urgency. This urgency is not financial, but a public safety catastrophe. At times, it seems the end game is not financial health, but safe streets.

This effort to tie public safety to the schemes of the EM is designed to cloud our thinking, dull our will to resist and undercut our confidence in our own ability to create change.

Consider when Dave Bing first took office, he was given something called the McKinsey Report, prepared by an internationally recognized consulting firm. This report, paid for by Kresge Foundation, provided an in-depth analysis of Detroit’s police practices.

Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press called the report a “deep-dive analysis” that “shows convincingly how Detroit’s inability to control crime is not about money or the size of the police force. It’s about how the city’s cops are being used — or misused.”

The report pointed out that crime is not a financial issue. Detroit has sufficient resources to proactively address crime. We spend more on our police budget than all 10 of the safest American cities of similar size and have more police officers than nine of them. But these officers are badly used and hampered with bureaucratic limitations. Further, much of the work in other departments is by civilians, not uniformed officers. The audit found that as much as four hours of the average shift was sent in paperwork.

In spite of all this — and the revolving door of police chiefs — some areas of our city were, and are, very safe. The downtown area ranked 37 percent below the national average for reported crimes. In other words, downtown Detroit is one of the safest places in the United States.

Not so in our neighborhoods. But by adopting some of the simple best practices offered in the report, overall public safety would be greatly improved.

In fact, without adopting these, overall public safety has greatly improved, even in our neighborhoods. In 2013, the murder rate was among the lowest in 30 years and crime in all categories was down. Much of this is because of the work of churches, block clubs, community groups, youth organizations, and schools that emphasize safety and respect.

EM Orr is cynically using the fear of crime to suppress criticism. Meanwhile, he refuses to challenge the very real crimes against our city perpetrated by the robber banks.

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