Detroit’s violent crime rate is more than five times the national average. Non-fatal shooting (NFS) incidents account for much of this violence — but since rampant intimidation makes it difficult for victims and witnesses to participate in the criminal justice process, these crimes are notoriously difficult to investigate and prosecute. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office (WCPO) set out to change that through the IPS initiative.
With a focus on Detroit’s 9th precinct, which has historically experienced the highest levels of violent crime in the city, WCPO is attacking the problem from multiple angles. First, it developed a dedicated NFS team, which responds to all NFS incidents in the 9th precinct and handles these cases from start to finish. In some cases, prosecutors direct officers to summon witnesses to the grand jury at the scene of the crime, with the aim of increasing the likelihood that those witnesses will appear.
The project also utilizes a one-man grand jury, comprised of a circuit judge, who has broad powers to investigate criminal activity. The statutorily-created one-man grand jury process supplants the need for an investigative subpoena, complaint and warrant, and preliminary examination. The streamlined nature of the process speeds up investigations, reducing opportunities for offenders and their allies to intimidate victims and witnesses. The secrecy of the grand jury proceedings also ensures that witnesses can speak freely without fear that their testimony will be made public.
Finally, the NFS teams makes targeted investigation and enforcement decisions based on data garnered from the Violence Reduction Network, social network analysis (SNA), and the Detroit Ceasefire program. Crime analysts conduct SNA on all homicides and non-fatal shootings in the 9th precinct, providing the NFS team with leads on witnesses who may be compelled to participate in grand jury proceedings.
One recent prosecution exemplifies the early successes of the IPS initiative. The defendant in that case — the leader of one of Detroit’s most violent gangs, “It’s Just Us” (IJU) — had been identified as a person involved in a shooting at a liquor store. Without the one-person grand jury, the case would have remained unsolved. The witnesses and victims involved in that case reported that they had appreciated the secrecy of the proceeding; the one-person grand jury provided them with a way to tell the truth while remaining safe and protecting their identities. The Assistant Prosecuting Attorney leading the case reported that the grand jury allowed officers, detectives, and agents to investigate the shooting and IJU generally without the normal obstacles and pitfalls inherent in a typical investigation. The defendant was found guilty as charged on nine counts, and received a sentence of 18 years, nine months to 24 years, plus an additional five years for the NFS of three other individuals.
Dr. Ed McGarrell and a team of researchers from Michigan State University are now examining the impact of the IPS initiative on case closures and violent crime rates. Early findings suggest that WCPO’s strategies in the 9th precinct have led to increased case closure rates as compared to other Detroit precincts.
Anna Bickerstaff — Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, WCPO
John Casey— Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, WCPO
Emily Corwin — Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, WCPO
Eric Decker — Commander, Detroit Police Department (DPD)
Julie Krupa — Assistant Professor, School of Criminal Justice, MSU
David LeValley — Deputy Chief, DPD
Juli Liebler, Ph.D. — Assistant Professor, School of Criminal Justice, MSU
Edmund McGarrell, Ph.D — Professor, School of Criminal Justice, MSU
Kim Miles — Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, WCPO
Rob Moran — Chief of Special Investigations, WCPO
Patrick Muscat — Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Special Prosecutions Division, WCPO
Ariel Roddy — Doctoral Student in Criminal Justice, MSU
Trisha Stein — Director of Administrative Operations, DPD
Mark Thornton — Captain, DPD
Kam Towns — Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Community Prosecution Unit, WCPO