Detroit police are focused on reducing the number of illegal guns on Detroit streets. (Shutterstock)

As the summer approaches, the Detroit Police Department and local activists are preparing for an increase in gun violence. Police are working to get illegal guns off the streets and activists say city leaders should invest in community-based violence intervention programs. 

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Since April 20, the department has seized 423 handguns, according to the weekly crime reports DPD gives at Board of Police Commissioners meetings. The department has also confiscated 26 long guns, which can include rifles and shotguns. Assistant Chief Todd Bettison says that in the past week, non-fatal shootings were up 52 percent. Homicides, which include but are not limited to fatal shootings, increased by 32 percent. DPD arrested 101 people for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and another 181 people for carrying an illegal firearm. 

Bettison said the police aim to take “as many weapons that we can take out of individuals’ hands.” 

“At least I know that that weapon will not be used to take a life,” said Bettison, who said the department is utilizing technology and other tools to reduce gun violence, but added that police need to adopt a preventative model. 

“We have to do more to stop it from happening in the first place,” said Bettison, who indicated interim Chief James White will be focused on prevention. 

Last summer, the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a wave of gun violence, and soon-to-be-retired Police Chief James Craig turned to the federal government for help and launched Operation Legend in Detroit. 

Residents took issue with the measure, saying the city’s Black and Brown residents were already overpoliced in their neighborhoods and that police should look to other interventions. 

Alia Harvey-Quinn is the executive director of Force Detroit, a grassroots project designed primarily to engage returning citizens and millennials in Detroit. Harvey-Quinn says the police department is “very engaged” with the activists who are leading gun violence interruption work in the city. 

“They’re completely on board, the problem is that there is no access to resources for these organizations to ramp their safety activities up,” Harvey-Quinn said. 

Community partners can help gang members settle disputes and manage gun buyback programs. Harvey-Quinn says with more resources, organizations that work in violence prevention would be able to pay their volunteers and get the word out about the services their organizations provide. 

She said now is the time for City leaders to invest in these violence intervention programs, and she believes 2 percent of the City’s budget “should go to cover expenses related to gun violence and corruption and particularly public health functions.”

She hopes some of the $880 million the federal government is giving Detroit through the American Rescue Plan will be spent on violence intervention efforts. Harvey-Quinn says the City could “make a huge impact” if it created an Office of Violence Prevention. 

“That office could serve to coordinate volunteer efforts, community engagement events and other things that support safe, active community participation and safety efforts,” she said. 

If those efforts aren’t funded, Harvey-Quinn says residents should still be actively involved in stopping violence in their communities. That means speaking up to neighbors and police when they notice criminal activity. It also means reaching out to neighbors and helping people who might be struggling financially. Harvey-Quinn says building community is the best safety measure possible. 

“Real crime prevention work is about having a deep sense of community,” she 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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