‘New York’-style Crackdown Helps Decrease Murder Rate in Detroit

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With a strategy used successfully in New York, Detroit law-enforcement authorities recorded a decline in the murder rate for the first half of the year, the Chicago Tribune reports.

That’s a rare bit of good news not only for residents but in a Police Department racked by scandal and accusations of cronyism.

Police are cracking down on lower-level crimes such as prostitution, and especially on non-fatal shootings and felonies committed with firearms. The result, they say, sends a message to criminals that they cannot operate with impunity.

The first six months of 2003 saw a drop in the number of homicides–156 people killed as opposed to 196 in the first half of last year. The city is on pace to end the year with 312 homicides, the lowest total since 1967, when Detroit had a larger population and reported 280 slayings.

Detroit’s murder count over the last 40 years peaked in 1974, when there were 714 homicides. Over the last three years, the number of homicides has been consistent at just under 400.

Officials this year are being realistic, pointing out that the hot summer is not over. And while the relative calm during this month’s 38-hour power outage in the city was an encouraging sign, a flurry of killings could easily spike the trend.

Still, the push to prosecute the vast majority of crimes seems to be paying dividends. “The message out there has been that law enforcement is not in charge,” said Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan, whose jurisdiction includes Detroit. “Now we have the bad guys looking over their shoulder.”

Detroit Police Lt. Billy Jackson of the homicide unit said a crackdown on non-fatal shootings has been key. Most such incidents are linked to the sale and use of narcotics, he said. And investigating them often is difficult because witnesses–frequently including victims–are not eager to talk to police.

With scores of more serious crimes to look into, Jackson said police and prosecutors often let the shooting investigations languish.

“Now we are going at every single one of them hard,” he said. “We are prosecuting every single case. And we have prosecutors right there with us.”

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