Detroit Murder Rate Likely Up 15%

DETROIT, Mich. -- The city's homicide rate was among the highest in the country in 2010, and the 2011 statistics, expected to be released this week, appear just as grim.

Murders in Detroit jumped from 308 in 2010 to at least 345 in 2011, an average of about three more per month, according to Detroit Police Department statistics and police reports.

Police are expected to release the official 2011 figures this week, but an unofficial tally shows the increase over 2010 will likely be around 15 percent, making the city's murder rate about 48 for every 100,000 residents.

In 2010, Detroit's homicide rate was about 43 per 100,000, making it by far the highest among the nation's top 20 cities, with the next highest being Philadelphia, which had a homicide rate of 19.6.

Detroit Police Sgt. Eren Stephens said department officials will withhold comment about the murder total until the official numbers are released.

The number of homicides in Detroit peaked in 1974 at 714, or roughly twice the current total. But the city's population was then about 1.5 million, so the current homicide rate is almost identical.

"I don't understand what's going on out there on these streets," said Gwendolyn Caldwell, whose father, Tommie Lee Caldwell, was gunned down inside his northwest Detroit home on Dec. 7.

"It's like people don't care; they'll just take someone's life at the blink of an eye for a couple dollars. Old people, kids - it doesn't matter."

Caldwell's father joins Glenn Brown, Raphael Washington, Corey Piert, Allantae Powell, Demesha Hunt and Renisha Landers as some of the names behind the statistics. Beginning with the Jan. 1, 2011, shooting deaths of Brown, 30, and Washington, 20, Detroit had murders last year that made national headlines, while others didn't get any media coverage.

Jessica Piert is among the Detroiters who grieved in relative anonymity after her husband, Corey, was killed during a Nov. 2 home invasion. She said detectives haven't given her much information after the incident, in which someone broke into their east side home and shot her husband after he got off work from the Better Made potato chip plant on Gratiot.

"I called the homicide detective in charge of the case to see if he had interviewed people I thought might be suspects, or if he ever talked to neighbors who might have seen something, but he never got back to me," Piert said. "I finally called a supervisor - but he never returned my call, either."

Piert said she's having a tough time not knowing who killed her husband, or why.

"He was a father of five with no enemies," she said. "He didn't hang out in clubs, or deal drugs. It doesn't make sense."

In contrast to Piert's murder, the slayings of Hunt, 24, and her cousin Landers, 23, have garnered national attention. The two women were found dead in the trunk of a car parked on the east side of Detroit on Dec. 19. Their deaths are part of an investigation into murders involving an online escort service.

Two other victims were also found in a car trunk a few blocks away. Police say the killings are connected, and that three of the four victims offered escort services on the website

"We're just trying to get through this, but it's not easy," said Hunt's mother, Denise Reid.

Gwendolyn Caldwell said the pain families experience after a homicide is worse than with other deaths.

"Death is handled differently depending how it happened," Caldwell said. "If my father had been sick, I wouldn't have been so upset. But he shouldn't have died like that."

Tommie Lee Caldwell was leaving for work the morning of his murder when a man forced him back into his house. His daughter said he fought his attacker in an effort to protect his wife, Alberta, who hid in the bedroom during the scuffle.

"He died a hero," Gwendolyn Caldwell said.

With the city's homicide closure rate hovering around 40 percent, the majority of Detroit's murders go unsolved.

Efforts have been made in recent years by Detroit Police officials to quell the violence. Earlier this year, Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. initiated the "Inside Out" program, which put dozens of desk officers onto street patrols. Godbee's predecessor, Warren Evans, initiated a data-driven approach that used statistics to deploy officers to patrol high crime areas. Godbee has continued that initiative, along with putting an emphasis on community-based policing.

But those initiatives are unlikely to help lower the homicide rate, said Wayne State University criminal justice professor Peter Henning.

"The police are better at solving crimes than preventing them - and even then, the clearance rate in Detroit isn't very good," Henning said. "How do you prevent murders? I wish I had the answer; if I did, I'd probably be elected mayor."

Henning said while murder isn't an economic crime, the fallout from a bad economy can increase a city's homicide rate.

"So many murders are tied to the drug trade, and from people living in despair," Henning said. "That's certainly true in our area."


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