Fighting Crime with Technology: A Detroit Success Story

In Forbes magazine’s annual piece about America’s most dangerous cities, published in October, the article leads with an anecdote from Detroit. Detroit has been a mainstay on such lists for decades, and last year, it led the nation in violent crimes with with 345 murders and 1,111 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents.

According to the Detroit Police Department’s website, 327 murders have been committed as of Dec. 11, a 12 percent increase over 2010, which means we’re on pace to have another exceptionally violent year. (Interestingly, though Forbes put the 2010 murder total at 345 using data from a combination of sources, including the FBI, Detroit police put the 2010 murder total at 292. Given that the department has been under a federal consent decree since 2000 due to concerns over its use of excessive force and arrest and detention practices, I’m inclined to go with the bigger number.)

What gets lost in Detroit’s raw crime statistics are the innovative, tech-heavy, crime-fighting efforts of the Wayne State University Police Department—efforts that are now beginning to pay off. Along with installing cameras and using CompStat data to constantly refine deployment to ever-shifting crime hot spots, the department has embarked on an ambitious crime-mapping project with the university’s Center for Urban Studies.

WSUPD Chief Anthony Holt has also made it a priority to heavily engage his department with local business owners and security officers from all the major institutions in his jurisdiction, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Hospital, and the Detroit Public Library.

In a city where the police department at large is viewed as underfunded and overburdened at best and hopelessly inept at worst, Chief Holt’s strategy shows what’s possible in Detroit when cooperation and accurate data meet good old-fashioned community policing.

“All of these activities have resulted in a major reduction in crime,” Holt said. “Crime overall in Midtown is down 15 to 25 percent, break-ins are down 29 percent, and … Next Page »

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