Detroit Police Chief James White sitting down in an office
Detroit Police Chief James White talks with the BridgeDetroit newsroom about the police presence anticipated downtown for large summertime events. (Photo by Quinn Banks)

Music festivals and the Detroit Grand Prix are among the events expected to draw large summer crowds downtown and Detroiters can expect a heightened police presence, too. 

Police Chief James White said visitors will see more officers on the streets, rooftops and in camera-equipped police towers. There also will be wayfinding signs, enhanced security screenings to enter private event spaces as well as a crackdown on illegal weapons and unlicensed parking lots.

“To the eye, what you will see is more police presence,” White said during a conversation with the BridgeDetroit newsroom. “We’ve got areas that we know historically have been problematic. We’ve got dark spots that are going to be lit.”

White said Detroit police have taken more than 1,000 weapons “off the streets of Detroit,” since Jan. 1.

“So, that gives you a snapshot of the weapons that are out there,” he told BridgeDetroit. “That is inclusive of traffic stops, inclusive of raids, inclusive of ShotSpotter, inclusive of a number of different things. But, this time of year, you have people that are just simply illegally carrying a weapon on public streets.”

Illegal weapons, he added, are a source of a lot of violence in the community. 

“It emboldens people, it makes people make horrible decisions,” White said. “Then, irresponsible gun ownership with legal weapons, young people finding their way to weapons and making mistakes and shooting themselves, shooting others. That happens all too often.”

DPD data shows there were 89 homicides and 259 non-fatal shootings in the city this year as of May 15. Five youths 17 and under were fatally shot this year and 25 others were involved in non-fatal shootings as of May 16, according to DPD.

The department also has seen 3,538 aggravated assaults and 213 sexual assaults this year, contributing to a slight increase – a 6.4% rise – in violent crimes in the city. 

In April, White detailed a 12-step plan for increased law enforcement presence in the city’s downtown. The plan called for additional officers on the street, road closures, more emphasis on the city’s open alcohol and youth curfew ordinances, and intercepting illegal firearms downtown. 

The annual Movement electronic music festival has declared that no guns will be permitted, legal or otherwise. Representatives for Movement could not be reached for comment. 

“What you will see is, yes, more police presence, more screening into the private areas,” White said, “particularly at Movement where there will be a funneling of people into this large area to be screened before they go in, looking for illegal weapons.”

Movement is being held May 27-29, while the Detroit Grand Prix is June 2-4 and Motor City Pride festival and parade in Hart Plaza is June 10-11. This year marks the first time in 30 years that the Grand Prix will be held downtown. Grand Prix organizers are expected to hold a press conference with city officials Thursday to discuss safety plans and security. 

But White stressed what he doesn’t want visitors to think they will see downtown this summer is “this approach of over policing an area to the point where there’s no opportunity for enjoyment for the community.”

“The overwhelming majority of the residents, visitors and people who live, work and play in our town are not causing problems,” he said. “The overwhelming majority go throughout this community without an incident.”

The chief vows constitutional policing when looking for illegal weapons. 

“We’re not saying if you are legally authorized to carry a weapon that you cannot, nor are we going to engage in actions that violate your constitutional rights,” White said. “We are focused on illegal weapons and those people who should not have them, the felons in possession.”

DPD stepped up staffing and enforcement following a number of shootings incidents in Greektown, including the “horrifying,” killing of security guard Daryll Straughter, White said.

White said officers have been “within feet” of every incident in the downtown area. The chief himself was five doors down when Straughter was shot, but having police presence, he said,  isn’t enough.

“We also need people to make better decisions,” he said. “We’re hoping that if you have a fist fight, and people are going to do that on hot summer days after drinking, by the time you stagger to your car and try to get your gun, we’re hoping that you calm down and leave. We don’t want anyone getting shot. We just don’t. So that’s the focus.”

White said with violence higher than typical for this time of year, more undercover officers are also out, “because the numbers that we saw were numbers we haven’t seen until July and August, we saw in April/May,” he said. 

Police also intend to target the unlicensed parking operations that have led to thefts during the summertime events. 

“We are going to control the parking because we have some parking lots that are not licensed. They are not lit and they are not secure,” White said. “They are just people showing up with a sign that says ‘park your car here,’ and people park their car there and when they come back someone has broken into it. We’re right now getting those regulations up.”

To further address the “cycle of violence,” the city is partnering with federal, state and county agencies on community-based intervention and reentry services for formerly incarcerated individuals. White said the violence in the city usually gets higher in the summer, but he knows people will still find ways to enjoy themselves. 

“Let’s make sure that everyone, not just Greektown, but every and all parts of the town have an opportunity to have a safe summer and beyond,” White said. 

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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