It’s probably safe to say that 2015 was a challenging year for Detroit, which means it was a challenging year for Mayor Mike Duggan. Although there have been unmistakable accomplishments and improvements that have occurred during Duggan’s administration for which he has a right to be proud, there remain a few critically important areas where the city still needs to see significant improvement – and soon.
Arguably the most important area of concern for Duggan remains the high crime rate and level of violence that continues to plague the city. Although the rate of murders for 2015 is reported to be the lowest in more than 50 years, it is still somewhat difficult to celebrate when 295 Detroiters were killed as a result of gun violence – five fewer than in 2014. That point was brought home in brutal fashion during the holidays with the highly publicized and tragic murders of 7-year-old Chanell Berry, who was killed as a result of senseless family drama involving an upset young woman apparently seeking revenge against her ex-boyfriend, and Anthony Tolson, an extremely talented bass player who was murdered by carjacking on Christmas Eve after leaving a church performance. He was headed home to see his children.
“That will become the main focus” for 2016, said Duggan, who sat down for a year-end interview in his office just before the start of the holidays.
“The first thing is, we’ve got to fill the vacant police positions. We have 220 vacant police officer positions right now. We have the money for it, so we were paying officers $31,000 and we weren’t attracting people, so we just changed the contract, and now the starting officers are making $36,000. So that was done last week, and now we’ve renewed our efforts there. I think if we put 220 more cops on the street, and then we’re working very hard on the so-called Green Light Initiative, where we’ve got the first nine gas stations which will have very high definition color cameras. Very high degree of lighting standard, so the cameras will be monitored at police headquarters 24 hours a day to see if we can’t create zones of safety in areas right now that people may feel at risk.
“And so we’re gonna have a whole series of those sort of strategies that we’ll be focusing on in 2016. But the focus in 2016 will be get the violence down.”
On the plus side, Duggan points to the fact that the ambulances are no showing up in half the time they used to at an average response time of 9 minutes. Buses are also running much more on schedule, he said, aided no doubt by the additional number of new vehicles that have been added to the fleet. And believe it or not, Duggan even sees good news amidst the dust and rubble of the brewing blight removal controversy, where he has been steadfastly defending himself and from accusations that his administration essentially cherry-picked certain contractors that they wanted to have the contracts and then spent far more money on the demolition than as warranted. But not only does Duggan deny those accusations, he also points to the fact that he has gone out of his way to hire minority contractors for those jobs.
“In 2015, 32 percent of all the blight removal contracts went to minority-owned businesses. $20 million was spent with minority businesses in the last year. And what we need to do is continue to grow those businesses larger and larger. That’s what we’d like to see is some of these smaller minority-owned businesses growing into larger companies,” he said.
“We’ve had great success with men and women of color starting businesses in this town.”