While I moved to Ann Arbor last August, I haven’t spent much time in Detroit. Although I want to check out the cool ruins, people have told me not to go, as it’s not only a high crime place, but if you call the cops they’ll never come. This isn’t why I haven’t gone there (because I have my own security), but it’s a common attitude people in the surrounding areas have towards Detroit. On the other hand, I keep hearing that Detroit’s crime rate is down and I’ve wondered why. Is there less to steal? Fewer people worth robbing? Or have criminals abandoned the city?
Sometimes my naivit&eacute shocks me, but until yesterday I had not realized how silly I was to be taking Detroit’s official crime statistics at their face value. An article in the Detroit Free Press highlights a problem with government-compiled crime statistics. A problem so obvious that I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it.
Crimes which are never officially acknowledged are never officially reported.

Detroit police are making fewer arrests, a dereliction so obvious it has led some Detroiters to conclude there’s no point in even calling the cops.
“I’ve talked to dozens, probably hundreds, of people in the community who are telling me they never made a report because the police never came,” Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans said Tuesday. “The delay in response time is such that many, many, many crimes don’t get reported.”
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy agrees, echoing Evan’s assertion that decreases in reported crimes are misleading.
“We tell the press that crime is going down,” Worthy said. “It’s not going down; it’s going up, exponentially, and we have many fewer officers on the street. We need to acknowledge the problem.”

Well doh! Fewer arrests translate into less “official” crime! So, if you’re in charge of a city government and you want to lower the crime rate, the answer is to not arrest anyone. Better yet, don’t answer the phone!
A bit like running a complaint department. Make it impossible for anyone to get through to complain (the way they make it impossible to close an account), and your business or government agency will have an enviably low complaint rate.
Naturally, the Detroit PD will not comment. They merely cite Detroit’s low crime rate:

The Detroit Police Department did not respond to several requests for comment last week. Instead, a department spokeswoman, citing preliminary police statistics, said overall crime in the city so far this year is down 9.1%, excluding a 24% increase in homicides — a trend that, if true, would partly explain the jail’s decreasing census, especially for those awaiting trial.
In 2007, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department recorded 20,423 felony bookings. Last year, there were just 18,261 — a drop of more than 10% in a single year. So far this year, bookings have continued to drop roughly 10%, said Undersheriff Daniel Pfannes.

Wow. That’s progress. At the rate they’re going, crime will have ended completely in Detroit by 2020!
Ordinary Detroiters, though, seem unconvinced that the drop in the “crime rate” correlates with an actual drop in crime:

But few city residents think a drop in crime is the reason. Ask east-sider Joyce Betty, 56. A young man snatched her purse, with $300 in it, out of her car while she pumped gas at Mack and Gratiot in February. Betty called 911 on her cell. Police never responded. “They made no attempt to contact me,” Betty said, even though the gas station has surveillance tapes of the incident. “It’s water over the dam, but I have little faith in the Detroit Police Department.”

In surrounding counties, the jails are full. Surprise! (If this keeps up, the “nice” suburbs will have higher crime rates than Detroit, and maybe people will move back into the city so they can be safe!)

Neither Oakland nor Macomb Counties report comparable declines in their own jail populations. Both counties’ cells remain full, despite innovative efforts to manage the population, Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel and Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe say.

In Pontiac, though, the arrest rate seems to be correlated with the number of officers:

Pontiac, however, is experiencing a trend similar to Detroit’s: Arrests have declined as the number of sworn officers has dropped from 170 to 65 in the last three years.
The Detroit Police Department deploys about half the number of sworn officers it did in the 1990s, and has lost roughly 1,000 officers over the last five years.
Even serious crimes aren’t getting solved. Arrests are made in only 37% of Detroit homicides, compared to more than 60% nationwide. Officers have too little time to investigate, and they work with a community that often does not trust them. Detroit’s shuttered police crime lab has raised more troubling questions about homicide investigations.

Hmmm…. I’m not sure how official statisticians might interpret a “shuttered” police crime lab. They could always say that because it has no caseload that its rate of unsolved cases is now down to zero — the lowest ever!

Another reason arrests are down is the closing — for good cause — of many decrepit, pre-arraignment holding cells under a federal consent decree that is mandating reforms. Six years ago, police held 350 in such lockups, compared to about 130 today. Shift supervisors, and probably officers, know when the lockups are full.
Evans said he offered to lease county jail cells for police lockups five years ago. Negotiations continue, but a deal should have been struck long before this.
Privately, some law enforcement officials also say Detroit police are frustrated by the added paperwork required for arrests under the federal consent decree. But that’s no excuse for failing to perform. The consent decree, signed in 2003, might be a headache, but it’s one the department earned by abusing the citizens it was supposed to protect, including mistreatment of prisoners in lockups and dragnet arrests of homicide witnesses. The department also had the highest rate of fatal shootings by officers among America’s big cities.
Fundamental breakdowns in other basic services also decrease public safety. Copper thieves have made land-line phone service in parts of the city, especially on the east side, unreliable and sporadic. It’s not unusual for phone lines to be dead when crime victims try to call 911.

Sounds like the proverbial tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it. If a 911 call did not go through, then clearly there was no call!
There’s more, and a public safety spokesman for the new mayor is saying they have improvements to make.
Of that I’m sure. With continued progress, crime will soon be a thing of the past.
Now, if we could just apply Detroit’s law enforcement model to health care, we could abolish disease!