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Curbing crime on the Avenue of Fashion

Officer Keith Buckman DONALD BARNES PHOTO

Officer Keith Buckman DONALD BARNES PHOTO

By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT – Revitalization efforts have not slowed the rise in crime in one prominent Detroit community on the city’s northwest side, according to a state official who represents the area.

Neighborhoods between 6 Mile and 8 Mile Roads and between Wyoming Street and Livernois Avenue have seen a spike in carjackings, assaults, robberies, damage to property, and, in some cases, gang activity and drug trafficking near schools within the past year, according to State Rep. Thomas Stallworth.

In 2012, as part of Mayor Bing’s Detroit Works Project — now Detroit Future City, and no longer an initiative of the administration — the area was touted as being on its way to a comeback. Affluent neighborhoods in the area include Sherwood Forest, University Commons, Greenacres-Woodward and Palmer Woods.

The artery of the area, Livernois Avenue, was famed as the Avenue of Fashion decades ago, and residents and business owners have been looking to revive its historic reputation.

“Livernois is about to be a great, great, great place like Royal Oak and Birmingham,” business owner Albert Chase Majors told the Michigan Citizen. “A lot of people are moving over here … all those buildings next year will not be vacant.”

Majors, 23, is owner of The Local Collective, 19131 Livernois, “home of all Detroit’s local designers.” He’s been at that location for four months and said since he’s been there, a number of robberies have occurred in the area.

“A lady was walking out of the place next door and they robbed her,” he said. “There was a young group of guys, they were terrorizing the parking lot and stealing gold (jewelry) off people.”

On another occasion, Majors said, a patron at 1917 American Bistro had his laptop computer stolen while sitting outside the popular restaurant.

Stallworth says business owners are concerned, so he’s reaching out for additional police support.

“We’ve done a survey of our businesses and their issues. With little variability, the major issue is safety,” Stallworth said. “There’ve been complaints of loitering, assault, theft. I don’t get a great deal of response from DPD; I don’t know if that’s the result of the EM condition. It just doesn’t seem to be as fluid or responsive as it should be or as it once was.”

Stallworth says the BP gas station on the corner of Livernois and 7 Mile has experienced an overwhelming number of carjackings.

Livernois beat cop, Officer Keith Buckman, who patrols the area between McNichols (6 Mile) and 8 Mile says in his 10 years of patrolling, crime in the area has worsened.

“It has gradually gotten worse as the area has progressed,” Buckman said. “You get a lot of smash and grabs and a lot of auto theft. You get a lot of guys coming through at two o’clock, three o’clock in the morning smashing the windows.”

Four recent police reports in the area include two robberies, an assault and a carjacking.

On Aug. 16, in the 2000 block of Woodstock, two armed suspects forced their way in and robbed a 30-year old male. A shooting on Aug. 27 occurred at Pembroke and Livernois when a man, 26, was standing on the corner. The suspect asked for a cigarette lighter, then produced a weapon and fired shots, striking the victim in the body.

An armed robbery occurred Aug. 20 at Wildemere St and Clarita Ave. Two males — one armed with an AK47 — carjacked a Chevy Aero. On Aug. 27, a 47-year-old male was preparing packages for delivery in the rear of a commercial truck when the suspects approached. One suspect produced a weapon and the second suspect took an unknown number of packages from the delivery truck.

Many attribute the rise in crime to high unemployment and Gov. Rick Snyders’ removal of 11,000 Detroit families from cash assistance rolls.

All businesses and the city have focused on is increasing foot traffic along the strip, noting the more people, the less likely the crime.

Michael Forsyth, project manager for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation’s Revolve Detroit, predicts future growth of new businesses on the Avenue. Revolve Detroit obtained $250,000 for improvements on the street. He admits it is not enough, but says the strong support of local business owners is a strength for building an economically viable area.

“With little money, a team effort is what you need,” Forsyth said. He lists two new galleries, the multi-faceted development of the former Hunter Supper Club, a bakery, creation of murals honoring famed musicians who came from the area among the many positive developments on the Avenue. He believes better street and parking lot lighting and more people on the street will contribute to the area’s growth.

Maurice Telesford, vice-president of the Sherwood Forest Association, says crime in the residential area to the east of Livernois has actually seen a slight decrease over the last few years.

“Sometimes there might be a few incidents that occur,” he says.  “When this happens we work with the 12th precinct and our private security force, Threat Management, to try and increase their presence and deter criminals from entering our community.”Telesford believes street lighting is key. He says the association is working with the Department of Public Lighting.

“We believe that having a well-lit community will deter crime,” he says.

Telesford doesn’t believe crime is thwarting the revitalization process.

“As we increase the population density of our neighborhoods, crime decreases.  Like any neighborhood across the country, we have homes that are for sale and others that are moving through the foreclosure process.  As long as we continue monitoring these homes and working with our security service, I am confident that our neighborhood will continue to be one of the most beautiful historic neighborhoods in the country.”

Paulette Williams, owner of Teasers Boutique says criminals watch for new businesses in the area.

“If you’re unsure how to secure your business, thieves will be sure to break in,” she said.

Williams has been in business for five years and recalls a robbery of her business in the first three months of opening.  She calls the break-ins targeted at new businesses, “the initiation.”

DPD, she says, responded immediately to her call.

Rod Fletcher, owner of Casa Del’sole, who also experienced a break-in, wasn’t as pleased with DPD’s response time.

“I had a break-in last year December 2012, Fletcher said. “They broke out the front window, took my laptop, flat screen T.V. and basically just trashed the place.”

Fletcher says it took over an hour for anyone from DPD to arrive.

“I came from the east side, Chalmers and Jefferson. The police had not got here and I had to wait on them for at least 45 minutes after I got there.”

Before moving to the west side of Detroit, Fletcher’s store was located in Royal Oak.

He says his only issue in Royal Oak was a female shoplifter he caught and told to leave.

“I think what we need to put over here is a police mini station right on Livernois,” Fletcher said.

“Customers will feel safe coming over here shopping. People would know that someone’s in the area. The opportunity to do a crime would be lessened by the visibility.”

Rep. Stallworth says he’s requested additional state police support in the area.

He says he’s also working to establish a relationship with AmeriCorp to help with community policing efforts.

“We’re building up our community patrol,” says Stallworth, with a specific objective of not only patrolling in the evening but during the day between school hours.

Stallworth says students have also been victims of robberies and assaults.

“With the complaints about last school year we anticipate the same kinds of activities,” he said.

Stallworth is concerned that with the high school closings, students having to go to schools in other communities, could cause more problems.

“We have kids traveling a long way to get to school. Any time you have kids traveling across community lines, you have friction you wouldn’t otherwise have,” he says.

Stallworth’s office is currently working with block clubs and neighborhood associations in the area to expand community engagement.

He says it’s going to take communities to help solve their crime problems.

He doesn’t put much faith in DPD’s current use of CompStat.

“I understand the police force is half of what it should be (but) they can’t sell me on some scientific method that is somehow going to relieve the need of officers,” says Stallworth.

“Our only option is community engagement and community information.”

We’re at a point and time where much of what we used to pay taxes to have done, we’re going to have to do for ourselves, he says.

“Now we have to pay the taxes and do the work.”

Donald Barnes contributed to this article.

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