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Report: Flint homicides spread like an epidemic

Demolished Buick City in Flint, Michigan
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Flint broke a homocide record last year. The city has faced hard times since the decline of the auto industry. Here the remains of Buick City in Flint, Michigan.

The Center for Homicide Research published a report on homicides in Flint. It concluded that Flint passed its previous record of 61 homicides (set in 1986) "in large part to a process of contagion."

In other words, once a homicide occurs, it can spark others, spreading like a disease.

In a phone interview, the author of the report, Dallas Drake, told me the process is a bit like an ember jumping out of a fire.  A person present at the scene of a homicide may become violent themselves, or they may prod others to become violent. Drake says these people can spread violence if the conditions are right.

And the conditions in Flint couldn't be better. Extreme poverty mixed with easy access to guns. The authors of the report say most of the homicides in Flint were committed with firearms, and the intervals between the killings seemed to ramp up as the year went on.

In the Flint Journal, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said he agreed with a lot of the report:

"The report is accurate in identifying that these violent crimes are part of a cycle, and we had an acceleration of that cycle. One violent crime often leads to another, when the drugs are combined with a breakdown in family structure and lack of economic opportunity."

The report offered several suggestions for how the City of Flint could lower its homicide rate using technology. Drake suggested three things specifically:

  1. Use of license plate reader technology. Cameras that scan license plates and cross reference the plates with crime databases.
  2. Technology known as "Shot Spotter" - captures and time stamps recordings of gun fire. Can identify what type of gun is being used and can pinpoint time of gunshot.
  3. Introduction of stationary street corner cameras.

The report also suggests implementing a program known as "Project Exile" whereby potentially violent offenders caught carrying a firearm are prosecuted under existing gun laws. The report says Minneapolis, MN and Richmond, VA have seen "remarkable success" with this program.
Drake said he specifically did not address the issue of police layoffs in his report, because it's an issue that he says is already decided - a political reality for Flint:

"Cities cut police and fire personnel as a last resort. If there's no money, there's no money."

Drake says they took two weeks in December to look at the data from the Flint homicides. Data that mostly came from news reports in the Flint Journal. The report is called a "cursory analysis of Flint's homicides."

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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