Biggest Michigan cities see more homicides in 2012

GRAND RAPIDS (AP) -- Michigan's two largest cities, Detroit and Grand Rapids, have seen more homicides this year, even though the overall crime rate has remained steady.

Concern about public safety in several low-income urban areas prompted Gov. Rick Snyder to launch a new program aimed at sending state troopers into high-crime centers. With financially struggling cities cutting back on the number of officers on the street, Snyder has said he is concerned about their ability to adequately protect public safety.

With Snyder's initiative, many troopers who graduated from training in October were sent to or near Detroit, Flint, Saginaw and Pontiac. They are among the top 10 U.S. cities of more than 50,000 residents with the worst violent crime rates.

Many Michigan communities have been losing law enforcement officers. State and local police agencies have an estimated 18,849 officers today, compared with 22,488 in 2001.

While crime overall has not been increasing, cities are seeing more slayings. Detroit had 375 homicides as of Dec. 16, compared to 344 in all of 2011.

In Grand Rapids, the state's second most populous city, homicide numbers were boosted by a two-week spate of murders, police Capt. Jeffrey Hertel said.

The city hit a preliminary toll of 18 homicides for the year on Saturday. There were 17 killings in the city last year, compared with nine each in 2009 and 2010. Grand Rapids recorded 23 killings in 2006.

"We were at 11 up until Dec. 13th. We've had seven homicides since Dec. 14th," Hertel said. "We can't attribute it to one cause or factor. A couple may or may not be related. One is a domestic related shooting. We've got a couple that may be back and forth retaliation.

"If it's happening in your neighborhood or on your block it's an overwhelming concern."

By Monday morning, 66 homicides had been reported in Flint -- a tie with that city's 2011 tally.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said better policing can only go so far in preventing homicides given the widespread availability of assault weapons and persistent inner-city poverty.

"The plague of gun violence claimed too many lives this year in Flint," he said in a statement Monday. "Solving the problem of crime and violence involves dealing with the core economic challenges of being a post-industrial city. ... It is clear that the problem of illegal and military-style guns is widespread and is a major contributing factor to the homicide levels."

"A comprehensive solution to gun violence requires serious reforms at the federal and state levels to prevent dangerous individuals from attaining firearms and to get military-style assault weapons off our streets," he said.

Saginaw surpassed last year's 12 homicides by July. Through Dec. 22, there were 30 murders in that city.

Published: Thu, Jan 3, 2013