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Detroit homicides up 17 percent this year

The Associated Press   

DETROIT- Among the hundreds of weapons that police collected in church parking lots as part of a citywide gun buyback this week were many that apparently hadn't been fired for years or even decades.

But other guns in the city are being fired at alarming rates, pushing homicides in Detroit up 17 percent this year and nonfatal shootings up 27 percent.

As of Monday, there were 237 homicides this year, compared with 203 in the same period last year. Nonfatal shootings have risen even more sharply, with a January-July total of 877, compared with 693 in the first seven months of 2005.

If the current pace keeps up, Detroit will exceed 400 killings by the end of the year. Last year's total was 359, and the grim statistic last exceeded 400 in 2002.

"I am real concerned, and I have been throughout the year," Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings told The Associated Press last week after announcing the gun buyback. "What we're seeing is that the victims are young black males between the ages of 18 and 30 and, unfortunately, the perpetrators are in that same group. We see that most of our shootings have a narcotic nexus to it, and I have to be concerned."

The Motor City became known as the "Murder City" after it logged 714 homicides in 1974. But crime in Detroit decreased throughout the 1990s, as it did in the United States as a whole. The number of homicides fell from 615 in 1991 to 396 in 2000.

However, the population has also fallen since then, and Detroit continues to have one of the highest per capita murder rates in the nation.

This year's spike has gone mostly without comment — a sign, some say, that residents have become inured to violence.

"Unfortunately, the crime rate has been so high here for a while, it's like there's not a level of seriousness concerning this issue," said Irshad Altheimer, a professor of criminal justice at Wayne State University.

What exactly has changed this year to cause killings to go up is unclear. Bully-Cummings said she was looking forward to comparing notes with chiefs and mayors from around the country in a few weeks at a violent crime summit organized by the Police Executive Research Forum.

The department has redeployed some officers to focus on three hot spots around the city — one in the eastern part of the city, one in the west and one in the northeast, Bully-Cummings said. In May, the department, together with the county prosecutor and federal law enforcement officials, launched Operation TIDE in the city's northwest district. Officials describe the program as an "intelligence-driven" strategy to better determine crime patterns and hone in on the worst offenders.

Meanwhile, the no-questions-asked gun buyback — in which people could get $50 to $200, depending on the type of weapon they hand over — had succeeded in collecting 420 guns as of a Thursday. Organizers had set a target of 400, and on Thursday police were handing out I.O.U.'s in lieu of cash and issuing a plea for more donations to fund the effort, which runs through Saturday.

Officer Keith Dean, who was manning the buyback Thursday at St. John Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, said many of the 138 guns turned in at the site that day had been collecting dust, and their owners worried about having them around their children and grandchildren.

No automatic weapons were handed in, but at least one assault rifle with a fold-out stock was among the day's catch. All the weapons will be melted down.


On the Net:

Detroit Police Department: http://www.ci.detroit.mi.us/police/default.htm

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