DETROIT — Violent crime is down in Detroit, police have improved their response time to 911 calls and officers are solving a greater percentage of homicides, according to the city's police chief.
The news comes just six months into James Craig's tenure. Craig has looked for ways to improve a department that before he was hired had a response time to 911 calls that approached an hour and that solved about four of every 10 homicides.
The time it takes officers to get to priority calls has been cut to about eight minutes. Criminal homicides in the city fell by 53 between 2012 and last year. And investigators now close half the murder cases.
Craig, a former chief of police in Cincinnati and Portland, Maine, has made sweeping changes to the way crime is tackled in Detroit. He discarded a failed "virtual precinct" concept that saw some neighborhood police stations close at night, put more emphasis on crime statistics to identify trouble spots, moved detectives back into precincts and brought in a new executive command team.
"I am continuing to evaluate each and every member at the rank of captain and above," Craig said Thursday as he released the 2013 crime statistics. "I am satisfied, for the most part, with the team that we have in place.
Last week, Craig changed leadership in homicide. The half-dozen homicide squads now hold daily briefings with each other, something that had not been happening.
"We're talking about status quo," Craig said, critical of the how things used to be done. "We're talking about no sense of urgency, no relentless follow up. This new DPD is about the business of accountability."
Across-the-board drops in violent and property crimes last year by about 7 percent each are among the department's successes, said Craig, adding that he's looking for a 10-percent reduction this year.
There were 333 criminal homicides reported in 2013, compared with 386 the year before and 344 in 2011. Non-fatal shootings were down from 1,263 to 1,161. There also were fewer aggravated assaults, robberies, sexual assaults and carjackings year-over-year, according to statistics released Thursday.
The number of burglaries last year dropped by 2,572 to 12,935.
A recently rolled out tactical response unit confiscated about 17 guns in its first two days of operation.
At 700,000 residents, Detroit's violent crime rate per capita is among the highest in the nation.
Chicago, which has 2.7 million residents, reported 415 homicides in 2013. New York with 8.4 million people reported the same number of homicides as Detroit.
"We know definitively — when you look at the level of violence in Detroit — when we stop someone who has illegal possession of a gun we've probably stopped a robbery," Craig said. "We've probably stopped a shooting, and more likely a homicide."
Craig said more officers will be added to the 2,300 currently on the police force, which will help the department reach a goal of a five-minute response time to priority calls for service.
The extra emphasis on making Detroit safe comes as the city moves through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. State appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr has made safety one of his goals in Detroit's restructuring. Under state law, Orr is in charge of Detroit's finances.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press