We hope you’re hanging in there with this disgustingly hot weather suffocating us, I’m just barely surviving. Nevertheless, we have lots to unpack today so harness the last of your energy for the week with me as we break down the nuts and bolts of some new safety technology, look into whether crime actually goes up during the summer months, and revisit the 1970s to explore the racial landscape of the city ahead of a historic mayoral election.
Before we dive in, I would be remiss to go any further without mentioning little Wynter Cole-Smith. As reporters, we’re exposed to the entire spectrum of humanity — from the most cruel and cold-hearted to the endearing and kind — but the tragedy of Wynter’s death struck hard for even the most seasoned of reporters. In moments of tragedy, media tends to ask victims to share and give more and more of themselves during the worst moment of their lives, digging at the wounds of trauma without giving space for healing — and we’re not here to do that.
We started Streetlight as a way to move off of the beaten path and to give readers necessary information about safety, justice and policing without exploiting victims or sensationalizing crimes for the sake of clicks and views. As we said in our first edition, we’re leaning away from “if it bleeds, it leads” and instead leaning into delivering you information that can help you live your most fulfilled life.
As always, if there’s anything you want us to unpack for you, my inbox is open: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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add up these numbers
The city entered a $553,392 emergency contract with Universal Macomb Ambulance Service to provide 18 ambulances through the summer, nearly doubling its fleet.
behind the crime beat
Journalism plays a big role in forming narratives around crime and how the public understands safety and justice — with lots of choices and consequences that readers don’t always see. This edition, we’re bringing you behind the scenes of the police beat, with one veteran reporter’s perspective on how crime coverage has shifted over the decades.
We spoke with Jim Schaefer, an executive editor at the Detroit Free Press who oversees the paper’s investigative, business, education and autos teams.
“It’s complicated because you think you’re doing a public service and in many ways you are, but in another consideration, are you advancing a stereotype about your city in the neighborhoods? Are you contributing to the ‘Detroit is hell’ narrative?”
»in these streets
speed through key safety news
Eyes on JDF (again): Just weeks after Michigan lifted an emergency order at Wayne County’s juvenile jail that required around-the-clock monitoring from the state, the health department reinstated it (paywalled). The state confirmed an incident took place at the facility, but has not released any details. (Detroit Free Press)
Gas ban for ATVs sputters: City Council discussed and ultimately postponed a vote on an ordinance that would prevent ATVs from fueling up at Detroit gas stations. The ordinance would make it illegal for drivers to purchase and for gas station clerks to sell gas to ATV drivers. The Detroit Police Department is in favor of the ban with Deputy Police Chief Franklin Hayes previously saying ATVs were “running rampant” in Detroit streets. (Detroit Documenters, BridgeDetroit)
To tax or not to tax: Did you know residents in Detroit neighborhoods can tax themselves a bit extra for enhanced services, including private security and snow plowing? East English Village almost adopted this special designation, but the neighborhood association’s board decided to drop the campaign after vocal opposition to the $150 annual price tag, and the additional security presence. (Outlier Media)
An unwelcoming vibe: Some city leaders worry that young people are passing on Belle Isle. A lack of transportation and youth programming might help explain why, but some young Detroiters say the presence of state law enforcement officials in the park makes them feel unwelcome. State authorities have managed the park for the past decade as part of a 30-year lease agreement with the city. (BridgeDetroit)
Reckless driving: Metro Detroit had a 25% increase in fatal crashes last year compared to 2019, recently released state data suggest. Overall, Michigan continues to have a higher number of fatal crashes post-pandemic, particularly in sparsely populated areas. Authorities attribute crashes to faster, riskier driving and fewer traffic stops by law enforcement. (BridgeDetroit)
A night of pure joy: Queer teens in southwest Detroit threw themselves a prom, creating a safe haven to let loose and party without fear. The event gave dozens of young people a chance to flaunt scary-fabulous costumes, learn about LGBTQ+ culture, and dance with their friends. (Metro Times)
A message from Streetlight Detroit partner BridgeDetroit:
Detroit’s City Council votes every Tuesday on contracts and policies that shape the city’s legislative agenda and impact the lives of Detroiters. The meetings are lengthy and they often cover topics, discussions and decisions of interest that many residents never hear about. But BridgeDetroit Reporter Malachi Barrett has it covered. Look for his comprehensive weekly rundown of the council’s formal session every Wednesday in the “City Council Notebook” newsletter. Sign up here to subscribe, for free. Check out past issues on the BridgeDetroit website.
looking back at the racial landscape ahead of a historic Detroit election
July 14, 1973 was a hot Saturday for Detroiters, with temperatures reaching the low 90s.
The Cold War was in full swing, and some Detroiters with eastern European roots might have stopped by the three-day Captive Nations ethnic festival by the riverfront.
“We are here to call attention to the plight of millions of people living under oppression,” said Sigurds Rudzitis, the chairman of the festival at the time.
dig into the facts
Whether it’s due to school being out or tempers flaring along with the heat, summertime is commonly associated with increased crime rates. But is that true in Detroit?
Essentially, yes overall, but not dramatically — and not for every crime. An analysis of data from 2020 through 2022 shows assault, aggravated assault and disorderly conduct were reported more often in the summer months in each of those years. But trends for reported car theft, sexual assault, and homicide were mixed.
A 2014 study from the U.S. Department of Justice found that across the country, you’re slightly more likely in the summer to be a victim of violent crime.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit Police Chief James White and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy have all pointed to a rise in temperature coinciding with a rise in crime.
Earlier this year, officials announced plans to fight crime downtown and a summer enforcement strategy in the 8th and 9th Precincts, which officials say had among the highest rates of shootings, robberies, and carjackings in 2023. The strategy involves prosecuting people in those neighborhoods in federal court for certain crimes.
inspect new safety tech
You may have noticed new, futuristic-looking security detectors popping up at spots in Detroit, including the riverfront and downtown Detroit.
It’s part of the safety plan outlined by White earlier this year, expanding on his efforts to deter shootings through surveillance.
In May, BridgeDetroit reported the Detroit City Council voted 7-2 for a four-year, $1.3 million contract with Massachusetts-based Evolv Technology to deploy 10 Express weapons-detection systems. Angela Whitfield-Calloway and Gabriela Santiago-Romero were the only councilmembers to vote against the plan, according to BridgeDetroit.
Evolv Technology said the Express is the “first no-stop weapons-screening system built to automatically screen groups of people as they walk through without slowing or stopping.”
In an investor relations presentation, Evolv Technology said the Express uses artificial intelligence to differentiate between weapons and personal items, allowing people to walk through the detectors freely without stopping to be checked. However, a report from WBNS in Columbus last year said the Express system missed 42% of knives tested during a 2021 study at Lower.com Field.
The company said the system can accommodate around 3,600 people per hour and requires 94 security guards per event, which they say is significantly fewer than normal metal detectors.
In its latest investor presentation, Evolv said it has more than 500 partners, including the City of Detroit, which is displayed on a slide alongside the New York Mets, Atlanta Falcons, SoFi Stadium and a number of other companies.
keep an eye on Detroit’s police oversight body
On Thursday, Board of Police Commissioners Chair Bryan Ferguson announced his resignation after it was reported that he was caught with a sex worker and issued a misdemeanor citation by Wayne County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Wednesday morning. Ferguson denied the allegation and claimed the situation was a misunderstanding. At the BOPC’s Thursday night meeting, commissioners accepted Ferguson’s resignation and Commissioner QuanTez Pressley was sworn in as board chair. We’re interested to see how this situation plays out and how this will affect the board.
The BOPC has had plenty on its plate. Recent reporting by the Detroit Free Press (paywalled) exposed that there was no body-worn camera (BWC) footage of the officers involved in the November 2022 fatal shooting of Ki’Azia Miller, limiting the board’s ability to evaluate proper discipline. Commissioner Ricardo Moore said there is a widespread problem of officers neglecting to turn on their cameras, and a lack of enforcement by the department. Investigators at the BOPC who review citizen complaints now presume police misconduct if there is no footage of an encounter. In response, Police Chief James White said he considers the BOPC’s position “extreme,” and a clear violation of officers’ due process rights spelled out in their collective bargaining agreement. He vowed to set aside any discipline resulting from such findings.
White’s administration changed department policy in February to require all interactions with citizens be recorded. The amendment to the policy removes the word “significant” in describing encounters that must be recorded, and states that “members shall activate their body-worn cameras and record all citizen contacts.” Detroit Documenters obtained a copy of the Amendment to Special Order 22-54 through a Freedom of Information Act request for a Feb. 2 BOPC meeting packet.
This project is brought to you by BridgeDetroit, Chalkbeat Detroit, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Metro Times, Michigan Radio, Planet Detroit, WDET 101.9 FM, WXYZ-TV and Outlier Media/Detroit Documenters.
This edition was written by Outlier Media’s Miriam Marini, SaMya Overall, Noah Kincade, Aaron Mondry and Koby Levin, Michigan Radio’s Briana Rice, WXYZ-TV’s Max White and Alex Klaus of the Detroit Documenters.