This week was another of the City of Detroit trying to give us all reason to believe the crime problem is somehow on the cusp of a solution.
Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee held two news conferences I attended this week where he attempted to sell that soap. He first brought in the Manhattan Institute to attack home invasions in the city’s last few remaining “good” neighborhood Rosedale Park. The Manhattan Institute is the think tank credited with helping New York City attacks its serious crime problems back in the 80’s and 90’s. They believe going after “broken windows”, j-walking and speeding everywhere, getting the “squeegee men” off the streets helped prevent larger and worse crimes thus reducing the crime rate. Godbee is launching a 90 day study of whether that will work in Rosedale Park. Good Luck!
Yesterday the chief stood with a couple dozen local pastors from Detroit who want to initiate the “Detroit Night Walks” program used in Boston. In Bean town they apparently learned that neighborhoods respond well to walking patrols of church members who watch for crime and reach out to troubled youth and target known criminals to alert them to the fact they are being watched. I asked Bishop Edgar Vann, one of Detroit’s foremost and well known religious figures a question about this program.
“Where was this five years ago?” His answer is they have been working toward it with other programs and this will matter greatly. Again, I say good luck. I genuinely hope both of these initiatives work but forgive me while my cynicism bleeds through here. While Godbee and the Manhattan Institute and some local pastors have to try something new and different [and even thoughtful] it appears entirely too little too late. It more feels like trying to quench a volcano’s forward march with a bucket of ice cubes.
While you wonder why I would be so doubtful consider the story I had the displeasure of covering today. The Wings of Love Church in Detroit, which has been feeding the area’s homeless for the past year, is without air conditioning. Now this doesn’t seem like that much of a tragedy, yet consider this; it is a 1200 member church that uses its tithes to run a soup kitchen. 60 homeless men and women eat there every day. They take pride in not offering government cheese or low end food. They say they offer chicken, ribs, greens and other real, hand cooked meals five days a week. The neighborhood around John R and McNichols is not a nice place. In the middle of one of the city’s worst neighborhoods this oasis is a place where the least among us find solace and sustenance.
Yet for all the good this church does it is out roughly ten thousand dollars tonight. Copper thieves have stripped the church clean of not one or two but nine different air condition units. The first half dozen sat on the ground outside the church behind two fences. The only mistake the church made was not putting a cover on top. The agile thieves jumped the fences, cut out all the copper, tossed it over the fence into a truck and slipped away at night earlier this week.
The church called its insurance company to make the claim. Then the next night the thieves, emboldened by their previous haul, got a bigger truck and scaled the church’s three story wall to access the roof. There they attacked four massive heating and air conditioning units stripping all the valuable metals. Two insurance claims later and the church will no doubt be paying massive premiums in the future [if it can even get insurance]. Thieves, who know full well they are stealing from a soup kitchen, display a complete lack of fear of the Detroit Police, a complete lack of conscience and display a lesser moral compass than a dog! Yes the church does have an alarm system, but with the homeless pulling on the front door all the time it is difficult to tell a false from a real one. The alarm company did not respond and neither did the Detroit Police.
The weekend weather forecast tells us to expect the year’s hottest weather. The services will commence with the use of fans and the prayers will be for thieves who need much more than prayer. They need something along the lines of divine intervention. One wonders when this church will run out of cheeks to turn and simply leave. That would be a true crime for those who so desperately need the food the church provides.
In a City where the crime headlines simply make you shake your head, just when it seems crooks could stoop no lower they find an inventive way to lower the bar. A soup kitchen? Really? In an environment like this where hope and care are depleted. Where cutting the charitable a break is completely ignored and life itself is cheaper than cheap, it is impossible to imagine any creative crime fighting techniques will have any impact whatsoever! The City of Detroit’s problems seem biblical in proportion and leaving us all wondering what to do. We encourage the chief and his officers and any other person of power to keep trying new better and different solutions. Yet we also are left to wonder whether anyone can slow down [much less stop] the city’s soulless criminals.