Is Detroit suddenly safer?
You might think so by picking up the newspaper or watching TV news because police have stopped reporting most murders, shootings and other violent crimes to the media and public.
Instead, the police department is releasing information on successful arrests.
“It lets our citizens know that we are in fact making arrests and solving crime,” police spokesman Sgt. Michael Woody told me.
In the meantime, the public is left in the dark about violent crime and wanted suspects.
The police department quietly stopped issuing the “Major Crime Summary Report” following the death of radio personality and activist, Angelo Henderson, who spoke daily about the crime report and the wanted suspects on his radio show.
Police Chief James Craig, who has been criticized for changing how response times are recorded, wouldn’t comment for this story.
Detroit Police Commission Chairwoman Jessica Taylor, who is elected by the public to address these kinds of issues, said she doesn’t see the problem.
“I don’t think he is trying to hide anything,” Taylor told me, asking me to wait while she urged the police commissioner to call me back.
Chief Craig never called.
Unlike other appointed officials, Craig is immune from public pressure and accountability because he was selected by state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.
Mayor Mike Duggan, for example, has no authority over the chief and has been asked to stay silent on most police issues.
Former Deputy Police Chief Jamie Fields said Craig’s decision to keep the public in the dark contradicts his claim that he wants a more transparent department.
“Transparency is the foundation of community policing,” Fields told me. “If you want visibility and transparency but your platform obscures or hides it by not being open to the community by not sharing information on crimes that occurred in their neighborhood, then that’s your de facto strategy; whatever else you might say about your community policing efforts, they will be perceived as a lie at worse or ironic at best.”
Orr’s spokesman Bill Nowling said the emergency manager wasn’t aware of the situation and would talk to the chief about it today.
For years, the police department released daily information about violent crimes. It included the location of the incidents, information on the victims and most important, details of the suspects.
That information was used by the media, including us, to warn the public about dangerous suspects and to map out the location of violent crimes. Now all we have are success stories.
When I asked about the shootings, I was directed to www.crimestopping.com, which maps out general crime but provides no pertinent information, such as descriptions of the suspects.
Sgt. Woody said the police department is “working to find new and innovative ways to deliver this information.”
“For example,” Woody said, “we are currently working on an app that will not only report our crime stats but allow the user to submit tips, view wanted posters and our Facebook feeds. Plus some other top secret software.”
Since Craig became chief, he pledged to create a more transparent department since crime is considered the number one reason people leave the city. But soon after taking over, Craig made dramatic changes to how police response time was recorded – a move that makes it appear as if cops are responding much quicker than they do.
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Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.