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Detroit 2020 violent crime spike led by homicides, shootings

detroit police car
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Some violent crimes spiked in Detroit in 2020, Police Chief James Craig said on Wednesday.

In aggregate, the city’s serious crime rate (violent and non-violent) actually fell last year, with sexual assaults, robberies, and carjackings all down significantly.

But there was an undeniable increase in two major categories: homicides and non-fatal shootings. There were 327 murders, up 19% from 2019, and 1,173 non-fatal shootings, up 53%.

Craig said there are likely many variables driving the “uptick in violence,” but one stands out.

“The country is faced with the pandemic,” Craig said. “And it’s clear that the pandemic was the single [biggest] factor driving violence in our cities, including here in Detroit.”

Craig said the “redeployment of officers from some neighborhoods” to contend with ongoing (mostly peaceful) anti-police brutality protests, plus the toll of COVID-19 on law enforcement, may have played a role. He also drew a more controversial and contested conclusion: that bail reform and “compassionate releases” of prisoners due to COVID also put more violent offenders back on the street.

“We are replacing them in our communities, and many are re-offending. That’s a problem,” Craig said.

Craig said a breakdown of known motives among homicides shows that the leading cause (31%) is interpersonal disputes and arguments. 11% were gang-related, 10% driven by retaliation, and 7% related to narcotics—though Craig said that anecdotally, officers have seen a rise in crime tied to increased drug use during the pandemic.

Detroit isn’t alone. Other major cities nationwide and in Michigan, including Grand Rapids and Saginaw, saw homicides and shootings increase in 2020.

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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