Detroit Police Chief James Craig announced Monday that he plans to change strategies for addressing car thefts in Corktown, a thriving entertainment district, and the way that citizens have to report auto thefts.
The announcement came in response to an article in Deadline Detroit I wrote early Sunday morning after going out with a group of friends for dinner at Ottava Via, an eatery in the old Dime Savings Bank branch building on Michigan and 8th Street in Detroit's Corktown.
After finishing dinner, we walked to the car on Brooklyn, a couple blocks away, only to discover that the person who drove no longer had his Ford Explorer. It had been stolen. Police say it was one of four cars stolen in the Corktown area on Saturday night, and among 47 stolen over the weekend citywide. The four cars in Corktown-- three Fords and a Lincoln MKZ -- have been recovered. They had the tires and rims stolen and the broken broken windows, Craig said.
On Saturday, when we called 911, the dispatcher told us to come to the station to make out a report even though we had no car. The dispatcher suggested we call a friend. We called an Uber driver and went to the station at Woodward and West Grand Blvd. where we saw this couple from Bloomfield Hills who had just had their Lincoln SUV stolen in Corktown after dining at another restaurant on the block.
"What was troubling to me most in this story was the gentleman who came out from an evening meal to learn that his car was stolen, and then by procedure was then directed to go to the police station," Craig said at a press briefing Monday at police headquarters, commenting on the Deadline Detroit article. "He then had to summon a cab or Uber and go to the police station so he could make the report. It was troubling because that’s not service."
Craig said as a result of reading the article, he plans to launch a pilot program in Corktown, downtown and Midtown in which a roving unit, during peak hours, will respond to scenes to make out reports for such crimes as car thefts and break-ins. He said the unit would also have a visibility while patrolling.
"We think this will enhance service significantly and also reduce calls to service," Craig said. Later in the day, police said the pilot program will begin this weekend.
Craig said police have a dedicated unit assigned to the Corktown area, but will make adjustments and implement a new strategy to address auto theft in the area, beginning this weekend.
Also, he said, as of today, officers would be meeting with restaurant and bar owners and managers "to discuss safe tips so they can communicate that over to their patrons." He said patrons need to be reminded not to leave valuables visible in the parked cars.
Dave Steinke, owner of Ottava Via, and the Mercury Burger Bar, just down the street, said many of the restaurants have secure parking with security so that customers don't have to park on the street. He said businesses need to do a better job educating customers about the availability of secure parking.
He insists that his secure lot behind Ottava Via had sufficient parking to accommodate customers that Saturday night. We drove by the lot that night, but it didn't look as if there was an opening. We may have missed a spot. Steinke said customers never have problems when parking in the secured lots.
On Saturday night, the street was packed with people going to events in town, and parking was tight.
Nonetheless, the fact that people parked on the street and had cars stolen is of concern.
He said the Corktown Business Association is working with DTE to add more lighting for parking lots, and he said Dan Gilbert's security folks have offered to help provide guidance for installing security cameras in the neighborhood. Additionally, the Wayne State University Police Department has expressed interest in helping address crime issues in the area.
"I don't want to lose site of the fact there are a lot more good things happening around here than bad," he said.
Police say that car theft in the city is down 28 percent since January. It was down 19 percent for 2014.
Capt. Aric Tosqui, commanding officer of the Third Precinct, which includes Corktown, said this past weekend was an exception when it comes to car theft.
"Corktown is clearly one of the safest areas in the city," he said.