You wouldn’t know it by tuning into your local news, but the notorious crime epidemic of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s appears to have passed. Property crime and homicide rates haven’t been this low in 30-40 years, and contrary to many predictions, crime has actually continued declining during the recession. You would never know it, though, from patrolling the battered streets of Detroit.
America has dealt with failing cities before, but Motor City presents unique challenges. Detroit has undergone massive depopulation since the belly-up of 2008, but the city still has far more residents to protect than Newark, Camden, or Baltimore. Moreover, the way that Detroit is populated creates many headaches for its policemen; the city is sparsely inhabited outside of “stronghold” neighborhoods like East English Village, Mexican Town, and Palmer Woods.
But it is in these middle-class districts that Manhattan Institute senior analyst George Kelling believes the renaissance must begin. Kelling, the author of the famous “Broken Windows” article that inspired a rethinking the NYPD’s tactics in the eighties, believes that letting crime seep into the last stable neighborhoods would trigger an exodus fatal to Detroit. Thus, according to Kelling, no stone should be left unturned: even petty crimes must be dealt with swiftly. Specifically, the crime guru urges zeroing in on, “public urination, prostitution, and other kinds of low level behaviors which are precursors to more serious crime.” Traffic enforcement is surprisingly important, as routine stops have nabbed many criminals. Certainly, there are many speeders out there who aren’t thieves or killers. A large subset of the criminal population, however, exhibit aggressive driving that is predictive of other behaviors. In a promising start, Michigan’s Department of Transportation has launched an initiative to identify offenders who are also lousy drivers.
With a steady, well-oiled machine devoted to safeguarding and expanding successful areas like Palmer Woods and Grandmont Rosedale, Detroit can hopefully join most of the rest of the United States in kissing sky-high crime rates goodbye.