Charlie LeDuff is a former reporter for Fox 2, the New York Times and Detroit News. He is the author of the 2014 book, "Detroit: An American Autopsy." His latest book, "SH*TSHOW," comes out in May. This is his first Deadline Detroit article.
By Charlie LeDuff
It has been a very bad month for Detroit Police Chief James E. Craig.
First, the Michigan State Police pulled out much needed manpower from the city after an interagency beef over the tasering death of a black teenager.
Then Chief Craig -- who moonlights as the city's deputy mayor -- convened a hasty press conference to explain why an off-duty Detroit officer, moonlighting in uniform as a grocery store security guard, was justified in knocking out the teeth of a young black man.
Then Chief Craig had to convene yet another hasty press conference to explain how he was shocked that his former right-hand woman, Deputy Chief Celia Washington, had been indicted on bribery charges in connection with police towing contracts.
Of course, the chief said, he had no idea his consigliere was on the take.
Perhaps most embarrassing of all was the hasty press conference convened by Chief Craig after the FBI released crime statistics late last month showing violent crime exploding in Detroit, making it once again the most violent city in America. This, despite the chief claiming for years, that violent crime was down by double digits under his steady hand.
The chief's explanations for the wild discrepancy border on the cockamamie: software glitches, misspelled names on police reports, double counting by the state's crime computers.
"I reject it," Craig said of the FBI report, insisting violent crime in Detroit decreased 5% in 2016, and has been declining since 2013.
For an administration that has taken every opportunity to trumpet the narrative of falling crime-- how it had somehow concocted a magical post-bankruptcy elixir of less cops, making less money, making fewer arrests leading to less crime -- it was a ugly revelation.
The truth of the matter is this: since Mayor Mike Duggan assumed office in 2014, violent crimes committed against Detroiters are on the rise.
My source? The Detroit Police Department itself.
Working on an honor system, the Detroit Police Department self-reports crime to the state police, who in turn pass the information on to the FBI. So, every number reported by the FBI has been tabulated and combed over by Detroit Police statisticians before the feds ever receive it.
What's more, the FBI requires the department to report victims of violent crime, which the DPD dutifully does. Those numbers are not in dispute, department statisticians tell me.
But when the DPD reports violent crime to the citizens of Detroit through the press corps, it uses incidents of violent crimes. And that's where the magic happens.
(Violent crime is classified as murder, shooting, rape, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. More than one person can be a victim of the same incident of crime.)
Look at the table below. According to the department's own numbers, there were more victims of violent crime in 2016 than 2014. Period.
When taking population loss into account, there has been at best a 1% drop in crime per capita since Craig became the sixth police chief in six years, a statistical wash. Certainly not the 11% plunge, as he and the mayor crow about.
Then there is the strange year of 2015.
The police reported about 11,800 victims of violent crime to the state -- on the honor system remember -- as the state does not have a direct line into DPD computers. Detroit police officials contacted the state in April 2016 to say their own count was too low and asked for more time to tabulate. The state refused, saying the Detroit police department was past the 3-month grace period allowed by law to finalize its numbers.
The department then unilaterally changed its tally to 13,560 incidents of violent crime -- a year later -- without telling anyone. And now. caught out, they blame the miscount on that mysterious 'computer glitch.'
Current and former high ranking police officials say there was a push from the top to get the numbers down. And they went down. Maybe too far down. This department-wide statistical anxiety may have contributed to the 'glitch.'
Chief Hangs Up
When asked what exactly the glitch was, Chief Craig snapped: "I don't know," before hanging up the phone.
It was the same answer I was given by his circle of statisticians. "I don't know."
It did not stop the chief, however, from taking credit in late 2016 for a crime drop he knew had not occurred in 2015.
So what happened to nearly 2,000 cases of unreported violent crimes in 2015? The answer is murky. Police brass tell me that a special squad was created to deal with the matter. How those cases were closed, whether there was proper follow up by detectives to the victims and why those cases were never tabulated in the first place is a matter for a deeper investigation. All I can say is the perpetual parade of put-upon citizens appearing on the 6 o'clock news deserve better.
The jaundiced citizen might ask: why are crime statistics even important?
The answer is simple: housing values, insurance rates, police manpower and the distribution of precious city resources are all determined in part by the crime rate. After all, Amazon does not want to open a new headquarters in the most violent city in America where the police can't count.
Chief Craig says the department is using a new $9 million computer program, and that has bought him some time. But why didn't the Detroit Police Department simply switch over to the Michigan State Police crime data management system, thus doing away with the notorious honor system? Why not let another jurisdiction monitor crime in real time?
Funny. The state offered just that, but were eventually rebuffed by the police department's chief negotiator.
And who was that chief negotiator?
Wait for it: Ex-Deputy Chief Celia Washington, now preparing for her federal corruption trial!
As one state criminologist confides to me: The new Detroit looks an awful lot like the old Detroit.