Answers, accountability lacking as more bodies fall in Detroit - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

LeDuff: Answers, accountability lacking as more bodies fall in Detroit

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Interim Police Chief Chester Logan and Mayor Dave Bing at the news conference Thursday.  (Credit: Fox 2 News) Interim Police Chief Chester Logan and Mayor Dave Bing at the news conference Thursday. (Credit: Fox 2 News)
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Off the Chain Opinion

By Charlie LeDuff
Fox 2 News


DETROIT (WJBK) -- I didn't know he fashioned himself a comedian, but Mayor Dave Bing began his crime news conference with a joke.

"First of all," hizzoner wisecracked, "let me apologize for being out of uniform."

He got a laugh seeing as he was dressed in a striped camel-colored sweater, a checked Oxford shirt and trousers that appeared to be of a corduroy extraction.  He looked the picture of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, the warm and fuzzy father-knows-best character played by Bill Cosby in the 1980s.

You couldn't help but think Dave's choice in clothes was purposeful.  It seemed to be an attempt to remind us what was good and wholesome in the 80s.  Then Bing dropped the bomb that Detroit had suffered its most murderous year since 1987, the height of the crack epidemic.

He and interim Police Chief Chester Logan sat at the table like a pair of grumpy old men, scowling and chewing on their lips.  They could offer no explanation for the spiraling murder rate.  No plan to combat it.  Nor could they accept the bulk of the blame.

All Bing could do was offer this ladle of Jell-O pudding: "I just don't believe our police department should have the total responsibility for safety in the city."

If not the police, then who has the responsibility?  Detroit, with a population estimated at less than 700,000, clocked in with 408 homicides in 2012.  New York by contrast has a population of 8.2 million.  Gotham recorded 414 homicides in 2012, which included 14 homicides from previous years.

Do the math.  Relatively tiny Detroit witnessed more murder than any other city in American except Chicago.  On Friday, I learned a Navy petty officer home on leave was shot and killed in the city, and a Marine who served in Iraq is near death after being shot Dec. 29 on the city's west side.  To think you can survive the theaters of war, only to be cut down in the killing fields of Detroit.

Why not look at what New York is doing, Logan was asked?  To which he replied, comparing New York and Detroit is like comparing night and day.

Then Friday morning, speaking on WWJ radio, Logan said he would be calling New York "probably next week."

If they want a solution to Detroit's retrograde movement they ought to look left toward Los Angeles -- home to 60,000 gang bangers -- as a model for turnaround.

Los Angeles has nearly six times the population of Detroit, but has fewer cops per capita.  Los Angeles spends less money on its police department per cop than Detroit, so money is not the issue.  Nor is geography.  Los Angeles is 500 square miles while Detroit is 139 square miles.  And like Motown, the City of Angels spent the last decade under federal oversight because of prior police misconduct.

But Los Angeles has counted less than 300 murders for the last three years.  So what have they done that we do not?

First, when crime guru Bill Bratton (who also turned around New York City in the 90s) was hired as the Los Angeles police chief in 2002, he brought a culture of mission and accountability.  If a commander wasn't with his program, he was fired.

In Detroit, the command staff is a carousel of incompetence.  Chief Logan has promised a departmental reorganization come February, but don't expect much from a guy who said: "If I had a thousand more police officers in the city of Detroit, the way things are now I don't know what kind of impact that would have, so I'm not asking for more police officers."

Second, Los Angeles uses daily computer analysis to identify crime hotspots and distributes manpower accordingly.  In Detroit, there is a dog-ate-my-homework approach to computer-assisted policing and brass meet only twice monthly to discuss crime patterns that have gone as cold as refrigerated gravy.

Third, Los Angeles Police have an aggressive gun squad that stops and frisks suspects who have broken minor laws like running stop signs.  Detroit had such a squad when Warren Evans was chief.  Homicide fell at a record pace.  Inexplicably, the squad was disbanded when Evans was fired in 2010 and murder spiraled upward.

In Los Angeles they tell the truth about crime and spend for it accordingly.  Despite a nearly $250 million deficit last year, Los Angeles increased its police budget by seven percent.  Daily crime statistics are provided to the public.

In Detroit, money goes missing and police contracts don't necessarily go to the lowest bidder.  The budget was slashed 20 percent this fiscal year, pay was cut 10 percent, cops are leaving in droves and not being replaced.  Precincts close after 4:00 p.m. and crime victims often wait for hours for help.  Last fall, a confessed murderer waited in a firehouse for hours for a cop to come arrest him.  Eventually the guy took a cab.

The mayor said with a straight face that except for homicide and shootings, overall violent crime is down in Detroit.

Few people believe it.

"We need to change the dynamic where drugs are sold and thugs rule," said David Martin, a research professor at Wayne State University's Center for Urban Studies, who tracks crime in Detroit.  "Police have to enter those neighborhoods, reestablish order, build trust and pick off the worst of the worst."

It worked in Los Angeles.  It worked in New York.  It worked in Baltimore.  But if you want to believe that lecturing parents is the short-term solution then you probably believe the guy in the sweater was actually a doctor.

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