While national crime reports yield a mild but favorable .7% fluctuation in homicide cases per capita from 2000 to 2010, two major American cities have seen extremely volatile shifts in homicides per capita through the first decade of the 21st century. The District of Columbia and Detroit, with its metro area, are currently at two opposite ends of the spectrum of city-wide improvement in regard to creating a safe haven for all of its citizens. The historic notoriety in capital crime of both cities poses an initial challenge to discerning the more progressively lethal of the two; however statistics are showing that D.C. is and is becoming the safer city.
Crime data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation uniform crime reporting website has shown a significant decrease in homicides in D.C. while the numbers in Detroit are totaling out to disparaging figures. There are a number of contributing factors to the declines and rises in each of the two cities but there are a few seesawing statistics that provide insight into the widening chasm of progress between the two cities. Perhaps the most telling of all of the statistical comparisons is that of the homicide case closure rates. The D.C. police department has boasted a 94% homicide closure rate between 2010 and 2011. In contrast, statistics for the same closure rates in the Detroit area are at 40% which is 20 percentage points below the national average.
Another major factor in the shift in D.C. is that of the change in attitude in the community toward the police. The D.C. police department is enjoying cooperation from the local community that has not been a reality for decades. This reversal in attitude helps break the cycle in murders as offenders are immediately turned in for arrest which helps to reduce retaliatory homicides. The Detroit Police Department continues to struggle with a decades-old distrust of the authorities which is a common characteristic of the demographic that they serve. Because of the distrust, suspects aren’t reported and deadly tit-for-tat conflicts will usually ensue. Communities will experience waves of attacks with extremely slow turn around in suspect apprehension. Communities in which there is no or little cooperation with the police will suffer the afflictions of unchecked criminal activity as isolated clusters.
The D.C. police department has run a tips hotline that has seen gradual increase in usage since 2008. Last year over 1,000 tips were given; which is an increase of over 500% from the opening of the tip line. Many of these tips led to prime-suspect arrests within a week of an incident. Thus minimizing the hostile environment of a city beset with multiple scores to settle amongst its citizens. Although many tip lines come with rewards for captured felons, this particular change denotes a breakdown in cultural strongholds that make reporting crimes to the authorities a taboo. Communities that participate with police on a regular basis create an autonomous defense against criminal activity.
Fluctuations in population size will affect the rates of murder per capita. The changes in population in both D.C. and Detroit make for more dramatic narrative. The District has seen only 5.2% fluctuation in its population in the years between 2000 and 2010. These numbers are in stark contrast to the 25% drop in population over the same period in Detroit.
The slightness in percentage fluctuations for the D.C. metropolitan area speaks to true elements of success as there hasn’t been a drastic increase in population or change in the population demographic which could indirectly lower rates per capita. The D.C. area police department has successfully taken specific measures to affect the communities in which it serves. It has effectively demonstrated to the residents of “problem areas” that cooperation and trust can produce a safer and more normal standard of living. The police have made good on promises of safer streets by keeping criminals off of the streets by concentrating squadron efforts on problem areas and refining detective work to close cases more expeditiously. As the D.C. residents feel safer they take more action against a frustrating environment and effect change amongst themselves.
As previously noted, the metro area of Detroit has experienced severe population decline over the first decade of the 21st century. The unfortunate combination of a dropping population count and a rising body count has hiked Detroit and its county suburbs into the top three in relation to national homicide rates. The Detroit area police departments face significant challenges in lack of community cooperation and the economic challenges that come with drastic declines in population. As demonstrated in history communities that have had historic difficulty with police and authorities will attempt to protect themselves from those same authorities even when the hands of authority have changed. These self-protective measures are often unhealthy and cause isolation and vulnerability. The isolation in turn causes unique challenges to the police departments that serve these demographics.
The Detroit area police departments have had to cope with strategic disadvantages because of budget cuts brought on by reductions in tax revenue. As the population has fallen the police departments of the area have had to cut back on force numbers. Cuts in police forces almost always result in lower case closure rates and a general failure in providing a safe environment. Low case closure rates and reduced numbers in the police force coupled with lack of community cooperation have made for a progressively lethal environment.
The two-year homicide statistics of the two cities tell a tale of both triumph and defeat within the same demographic. While each city has its own unique challenges, these numbers speak to the breakdowns that occur when there is animosity against the police in a community and a lack of strategic effectiveness in the peace keeping forces of those same communities. In contrast, these numbers also demonstrate the positive results that take place when lack of cooperation and agency effectiveness are reversed.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2010).
Uniform Crime Report [Data File]. Retrieved from
United States Census Bureau. (2011).
QuickFacts [Data File]. Retrieved from
Amico, Laura. (December 30, 2011).
Understanding MPD’s 94% Homicide Closure Rate. Retrieved from
Hackney, Suzette. (November 13, 2011).
Living with Murder: The Agony of Detroit’s Neighborhoods – and their Cry for Help.
Retrieved from http://www.freep.com/article/20111113/NEWS01/111130533/Living-murder-agony-Detroit-s-neighborhoods-their-cry-help