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Crime in Detroit neighborhoods: Expanding the Green Light initiative

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The Green Light initiative is marked by a literal green light flashing as well as several signs.

Detroit still has a reputation for being a high-crime city. However, like the rest of the nation, Detroit’s violent crime rate has been steadily declining since the late 1980s.

A new crime fighting effort started last year. The Detroit Police Department started promoting its Green Light initiative in January of 2016. It began as a response to late night high profile criminal events at gas stations. Now it’s also being promoted to business owners who don’t think police are patrolling their neighborhood enough.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Business owner Patrick Maher feels police response and police presence are not adequate in his neighborhood.

“The police response is terrible. The police presence is terrible. Next door has been robbed a number of times,” said Patrick Maher of Eastside Locksmith on East Warren Avenue.

"Next door" is the Family Dollar store. In January a clerk was shot in a robbery attempt. (See report here.)

The night before that shooting, just down the street at Nottingham Pharmacy, there was another attempted crime. (See report here.)

Marilyn Nash Yazbeck owns the pharmacy. She says someone used a sledge hammer to try to break through the concrete block wall. Thieves have broken through doors and windows to get into her pharmacy at night many times in the past two decades. She believes it’s young people looking for drugs that she does not carry.

“Now it’s coming through the walls issue. You know, so I’ve had my crime. You know it happens and you get upset, but crime is everywhere,” she said.

The police interrupted that break-in.

Both of those merchants are in the MorningSide neighborhood on Detroit’s east side.

Riding in the squad car of Neighborhood Patrol Officer (NPO) DeAndre Gaines, I asked about the merchants’ concerns that police were not around enough.

“We are out here in MorningSide. Personally, I’m out here as well as the other NPOs,” Gaines said.

He added besides the NPO assigned to MorningSide, there are regular patrol officers on the streets 24/7.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Neighborhood Police Officer DeAndre Gaines signs and dates a sign-in sheet. It verifies police visits to businesses enrolled in the Green Light initiative.

He says if the business owners really want to be sure of police presence, they should sign up for Detroit’s Green Light initiative.

“We’re trying to get businesses to get on the system where we can actually monitor their cameras live from a feed down at the City of Detroit headquarters. It’s a very high-definition camera where if something happens, it’s recorded, we can get license plates, we can do facial recognition, very, very good evidence in case a crime happens,” he explained.

According to the city’s website, 158 businesses have signed up since it started in January of last year. Only a couple of them are in the MorningSide neighborhood.

It’s not cheap. A business has to spend between $4000 to $8000 for the cameras. The city indicates Comcast is offering a program of $995 down and $140 a month to lease digital cameras and storage equipment.

On Mack Avenue, Gaines points at a sign for the Maryland Liquor store.

“You see the green light flashing right here,” he asked. It’s hard to miss.

“Also we have signs right here and you have signs on the door. So, let’s go in and take a look,” he said.

There are several other signs indicating this is a Green Light business.

The banter between the cop and the clerks makes it clear that Gaines has been in the store many times before. He’s expected. It’s just a matter of when.

At random times throughout the day, police are mandated to visit the store, sign and date a sign-in sheet.

Mustafa Almuhi was working the morning we visited. I asked him what he thought of the program.

“Ah, man, it’s working,” he said, adding, “Feels a lot safer, feels a lot better, you know what I mean, knowing that you know you’re being watched, being protected, you know, at all times.”

He said the store has seen a reduction in crime. Stores report there’s an average reduction in incidents of about 40 percent. Almuhi said he tells patrons.

“You let them know, ‘Hey, we got the Detroit Police watching over here, looking over us,’” he said.

On the way out of the store, we ran into the owner, Jassim Erzouki.

“Oh, it’s an excellent addition to the business here. All the families love it in the neighborhood and they feel confident and comfortable and safe coming in. We have rooted out the bad elements that we didn’t want around the store. I think that eliminated a lot of bad incidents that happened around the store,” he said.

Gaines says any business, a restaurant, gas station, any retail business can sign up for the Green Light program.

“And businesses that reported having a Green Light have seen a reduction in crime, also an increase in profit because people want to come shop at those businesses,” he said.

And now the city is considering an ordinance that would require businesses open after 10:00 p.m. to enroll in the Green Light initiative. But, not every business wants to be forced to pay the costs of those cameras.

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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