On April 19, a broad coalition of community partners announced the creation of “One Detroit,” the comprehensive violence reduction initiative of the US Attorney’s Office. The core of the initiative is partnership. One Detroit is a formal alliance that brings together leaders of the community and those with subject matter expertise in the areas of enforcement, prevention, and reentry — the three pillars that serve as the foundation for One Detroit — to develop and execute the best strategies to reduce violent crime. Our goal is ambitious: we are setting our sights on cutting gun violence in half in the district’s largest city. But it can be done. We must do it. We will do it as One Detroit.
Although the One Detroit partnership was announced in April, this was not the start of our work. For the last year, we have learned about the violent crime problems in Detroit and elsewhere; we have identified individuals and groups working hard to address it; and, we have begun to implement anti-violence practices that have worked in other cities. We learned that urban violence is often perpetrated in clusters by a small number of people and groups, and we can be most effective if we focus on these violent people. We also learned that responses to violence can be overbroad and negatively affect community relationships. Most importantly, we learned that violence is best addressed together, as one community, as One Detroit.
The One Detroit partners come from all aspects of our city, and they include Bishop Edgar Vann of the Second Ebenezer Church, Kenyatta Stephens, the CEO of Black Family Development, Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Detroit Police Chief James White, and Heidi Washington, Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections.
The One Detroit partnership’s enforcement efforts will involve close coordination between federal and local law enforcement to identify emerging violent offenders or trends in particular neighborhoods. We will draw on the expertise of local officers, who have deep experience in the communities they serve. And we will pair that personalized knowledge with technology like the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network (NIBIN), ShotSpotter, and evidence-based tools that will help us focus on the small number of people perpetrating violence.
This strategy is backed by evidence and experience. it works. It is already having an impact on communities throughout the district, including Detroit. Over the course of the last year, the US Attorney’s Office and its state, local, and federal partners have focused enforcement on the drivers of violence throughout the Eastern District of Michigan. And in 2022, shootings in Saginaw were down 57%; down 70% in Pontiac; down 42% in Flint; and down 53% in Jackson. Detroit’s numbers—a 10% reduction in non-fatal shootings—were not as significant. One Detroit is committed to changing that.
But One Detroit is much more than just another enforcement effort. We are focused on crime prevention in a way this community has never seen before. For example, next week we will send out over 100 letters warning those on probation and parole about our upcoming summer enforcement in an effort to deter those individuals from illegally possessing guns. We will turn on its head the historical paradigm of arrest first and advise later so that we can prevent crime rather than punish it.
And we will assist returning citizens to transition peacefully to the community by connecting them to housing, mental health and employment assistance. We recently hosted a “Second Chance” reentry symposium that was attended by over one hundred returning citizens and service providers.
This combined approach—enforcement, prevention, and reentry—recognizes the need for prosecution of those who are the most violent, but also the collateral impacts that often accompany aggressive law enforcement efforts. We are committed to balancing our investigative and prosecutive efforts with outreach strategies designed to prevent violent crime from happening. For the past year, federal prosecutors have been assigned to five precincts in Detroit to work with federal and local law enforcement partners to identify violent offenders. But they are not just involved in enforcement. Our prosecutors also attend community meetings in those precincts where they communicate about our work and learn about things like blight and abandoned buildings where violence and crime often concentrate. This type of partnership has a direct impact on violence and the quality of life for Detroit’s citizens. For example, last summer, a prosecutor learned from the community about an abandoned house that had become a hotspot for violence. The prosecutor shared that information with the Mayor’s office, which was able to prioritize the house for demolition.
We understand that law enforcement cannot simply target communities for enforcement to reduce crime but must engage with those communities in a positive manner. Last summer, before we implemented our enhanced enforcement strategy in the two precincts most affected by violent crime in Detroit, my team and I addressed the Community Relations Councils in those precincts. We explained the data we used to determine the areas in need of the enhanced enforcement. We share our strategy. We asked community leaders in those areas to help us deter violence by providing information about enhanced enforcement. They welcomed the information and readily joined the effort.
In addition, during the summer enforcement period, the US Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the City of Detroit and some of our One Detroit partners, hosted community engagement events called “Peacenics” in those same areas in the city. These community gatherings include everything from cookie decorating, face painting, and basketball giveaways, to literacy programs, expungement assistance, vocational programs, employment opportunities, and other community-level services. The positive reactions from the community to these gatherings inform our beliefs that outreach and trust are crucial components of crime reduction. Our Peacenics will be returning to O’Hair Park and Heilmann Park this July.
Reducing violent crime is my highest priority as US Attorney. People in Detroit need to feel safe when they go about their business on our streets. And I recognize that we need a more mindful approach to violence reduction that acknowledges law enforcement cannot be the only solution to keeping our communities secure. We need to change hearts and minds through trust and transparency.
The One Detroit partners don’t have all the answers to reduce violent crime in the City of Detroit, but we won’t stop trying to find solutions. We won’t stop trying to make Detroit safe for its residents and the people who come to Detroit to work and play. We won’t stop trying to partner with individuals and groups willing to put their efforts into making our community safe. We won’t stop trying to end the cynicism that sees violent crime in cities like Detroit as intractable. Finally, as US Attorney, I won’t stop trying to bring an end to the senseless killings in my treasured hometown of Detroit and throughout the Eastern District of Michigan. I won’t stop.
Dawn N. Ison is the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Opinion: Coalition aims to cut Detroit gun violence by 50%
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