Published: August 1, 2012
For about a year now, the Detroit Police Department has done something it's never done before — it sends out a daily report chronicling the previous day's major crimes — the shootings, the stabbings, the carjackings, the armed robberies. It's an ongoing narrative of the worst behavior of the city's worst residents.
There's not enough time or space to report all the incidents that, in Detroit, are considered comparatively minor — the burglaries (more than 7,900 so far this year by mid-July), the assaults (more than 15,000), the stolen cars (more than 6,500), the rapes (more than 520). And some violent incidents are left out entirely if a detective says he wants it kept quiet while it's being investigated.
What's finally released, then, is an imperfect but revealing measure of the substance behind the city's longstanding reputation for violence.
"It's just to be transparent," says Sgt. Eren Stephens, a spokeswoman for the department, of the daily reports. Chief Ralph Godbee, she says, "believes that if it helps the citizens help us fight crime, let's put it out there."
Each entry is its own brief story, written in cold, flat police jargon whose vagueness sometimes poses more questions than answers. A recent description of three suspects wanted in an early July shooting reads: "Suspect #1: Black male, wearing an orange shirt. Suspect #2: Black male. Suspect #3: Black male, armed." Be on the lookout.
The vague language is deliberate, Stephens says. Sometimes an investigation is ongoing, and releasing too many details could compromise it. Sometimes the police don't have more information because the victim won't talk. Or can't anymore.
"It could be that they didn't see anything, it could be that the individual was not available at the time to give the information, so a lot of times we just want to let the citizens know this is happening in that area, so be aware."
And sometimes, the police run into the notorious street code that says snitching on a murder is almost worse than the murder itself. A report of a July 22 shooting notes that, "The victim has refused to cooperate at this time. The circumstances pertaining to this incident are unknown. Suspect: Unknown, possibly driving a vehicle."
"Unfortunately you have some citizens who will just not supply information to Detroit police because they want to handle it themselves," Stephens says. "Or they're just scared of retaliation. Sometimes the victim refuses to prosecute, and we don't have a case."
Some people might read the reports and find less crime going on than they expected; some might discover there's more. What stands out is how constant the violence is, how much fresh fodder there is to fill daily reports, how little information the police have to go by in many cases. And how many of the crimes are truly random.
Each day chronicled in the reports blurs into the next as each day brings fresh crime. So any random date, say July 15, is as good a glimpse into the city's violent side as any other.
That day, a Sunday, would be another very hot day in a summer full of them. By the following morning at least a dozen major crimes had taken place in Detroit — several shootings, a few carjackings, and two men killed, edging this year's total murders close to 200.
That Sunday's mayhem began exactly one minute after midnight, near Hayes and Harper on the east side, when two women who knew each other started fighting with their fists. The 55-year-old grabbed a knife and inflicted a deep cut on her 52-year-old acquaintance, sending her to the hospital in serious condition.
Two hours later, at Plymouth at Forrer near Greenfield Road, an 18-year-old was standing outside at 2 a.m. when he heard nearby gunfire and suddenly felt a sharp pain. No description of the shooters, no clues as to why. He was the first of several that day hit by stray gunshots.
Across town, a 36-year-old man was driving on the east side near Houston-Whittier and Chalmers at around 2:30 a.m. and thought the middle of the night was a sensible time to get gas in a bad neighborhood. He pulled into the Citgo on the corner, got out of his 2008 Chevy Impala under the station's bright lights, and a man who was hiding in the shadows, wearing a red baseball cap and a ski mask despite the heat, came over, pointed a gun, and drove off with a free car. The victim wasn't harmed. He was among the lucky handful that day to face a gun and walk away.
The three guys sitting in a car on a darkened Fairport Street at East State Fair at 2:45 a.m. were not so lucky. A car pulled up alongside them, and someone pulled out a gun and sprayed the three men with bullets. The two 26-year-olds eventually made it to the hospital; the 33-year-old did not. "Suspect: unknown and armed," the report states.
For whatever reason, a 44-year-old man was awake enough at 4:25 a.m. to be standing outside on Seebaldt just off Tireman on the west side. Suddenly, as the police report puts it with comic passivity, "he received gunshot wounds to the body," leaving him in temporarily serious condition at the hospital. This was one of those shootings in which the victim apparently comes down with selective amnesia when the police arrive. "The circumstances pertaining to this incident are currently unknown," the report admits.
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