By Brett Gillin
A few years ago, Detroit was, at best, the butt of a joke about the plight of the poor. At worst, Detroit was a veritable nightmare and stark reminder of how quickly a city can go from boom to bust with just a few turns of bad luck or poor decision making. Detroit had some of the highest crime rates in the nation. In fact, according to City-Data.com, crimes occurred three times more often in Detroit than the national average. However, things have started to turn around, and there is no better example than the area known as Midtown. This turnaround came about thanks in large part to an unlikely source: A university police department.
Thanks to the Wayne State University Police Department, a neighborhood that was known for its drug problem and abundant prostitutes is now a bustling haven for small businesses. According to this article in the New York Times, the once empty storefronts are now home to locally owned coffee shops, yoga studios, restaurants, and clothing stores. Each one of these businesses owes a great debt to Wayne State Police Chief Anthony D. Holt and his department, which defines going above and beyond for the good of the community.
Traditionally, university police departments operate almost solely on-campus. For the most part, the only time they venture outside the confines of the university is for a crime that involves one of their students or faculty members. But the Wayne State University Police Department wanted to do more for their community. So in 2009, they expanded their operating radius to cover all crime calls in a four-square-mile territory that covers the entire university and Midtown.
“People won’t move somewhere they don’t feel safe,” Michael G. Wright, Wayne State’s chief of staff told the New York Times. “We recognized that if Detroit was going to experience an economic comeback – particularly in Midtown, our neighborhood – this was a big issue.”
With a police staff of just over 30 people in total, Chief Holt knew that he couldn’t just step up patrols and think that he’d have the crime under control. Instead, he became a huge believer in technology. The department built a network of some 850 cameras across the university and Midtown area so that a centralized location could monitor hundreds of locations at one time.
Thanks to this vast network, officers could now get eyes on a crime in progress in mere seconds. That might not even be the most impressive part of what Wayne State’s department is doing these days. The department has promised, and is delivering, a 90 second response to 911 calls in their territory. For contrast, this New York Times article explains that in 2013, the 911 response time in Detroit was nearly one hour!
The owner of a local business told reporters about a recent afternoon where she saw a man looking through parked cars outside her salon. “I bolted out of the salon, and he ran down the street. Then I called Wayne State. They were there within two minutes. Five minutes later, they had him.”
Since expanding their jurisdiction over Midtown, Wayne State has made a major difference. Major crime rates are down 52 percent. That drop in crime has led to more businesses and residents moving into the city. In total, 37 new businesses opened last year alone, and 400 new residential units are under construction with 1,700 more planned.
When speaking of the police department’s impact on the community, one resident told reporters “Here, they’re part of the community. They’re involved. We know each other by name. It makes the relationship a lot better, so you don’t have the problem of feeling like they antagonize you.”