Politics & Policy

Self-Defense Business Booming In Detroit

After years of poor police response, Motor City residents learn to protect themselves.

Detroit, Mich., was once a home to innovation and entrepreneurship, a jewel of the Midwest. Today, the bankrupt Motor City is considered to be the most dangerous in the country. Tensions between citizens and police are high, leading to a distrust that further erodes public safety.

But as the city struggles to get its police department in order, a private-security expert is helping citizens do the job they no longer trust the local government to do.

Dale Brown of Detroit’s Threat Management Center noticed this lack of trust when he moved to Detroit in the 1980s. He tells National Review Online the Detroit Police Department back then was more interested in persecuting locals in order to protect visitors.

“I was disgusted when I saw that kids lived like this,” he said. Because of the lack of response, the people of Detroit simply stopped calling. Brown wanted to make a difference in the quality of life right where he lived, a particularly dangerous part of the city.

He started by providing security for an apartment building in exchange for a place to live. He apprehended criminals and prevented crime, constantly calling the police department and getting nowhere. It wasn’t simply a lack of resources, either.

“I was at the police station five days a week,” Brown said, “and they don’t care.”

The extent to which the Detroit Police Department failed its citizens became clear ten years ago, when a man who had killed his girlfriend with a hammer went to the police station to turn himself in. The killer couldn’t get the police to do anything about it. After trying to confess on three occasions, he got on a bus to Toledo and confessed there instead. A murderer literally showed up at the police station to confess, and the Detroit police ignored him.

In this unresponsive environment, Brown decided to do something right in his own neighborhood. Even in a safe area, being able to defend oneself is a great skill to have, but it is especially necessary when there might be no other option.

Brown started teaching self-defense classes at the YMCA and in local parks in 1993, and his business grew from there. Now Threat Management Center has a Survival Scouts program, which teaches children aged 4 to 17 the basic tenets of self-defense, evasion, conflict avoidance, first aid, and awareness. In addition, Threat Management Center created a volunteer civilian program in 1995 called the Violence Intervention Protection Response System (VIPERS), which has a proven record of success in the community.

In fact, Detroit police sometimes call in VIPERS when a victim of domestic violence needs to be protected before heading to court to testify against an abuser. VIPERS have never had a physical altercation with an abuser, and they live by the rule that you “only shoot somebody if you’d shoot a family member under the same circumstances.” Threat Management Center now also includes private security and bodyguard training as options for keeping citizens safe.

Brown hasn’t forgotten about the people in their neighborhoods who can’t afford the training. “You can’t be money-oriented,” he said, “you have to be mission-oriented.” Threat Management Center provides free classes to the community on Friday. Citizens who have been victimized by stalking or violence are frequently referred to these classes by local shelters or the Detroit prosecutors’ office.

Detroit’s bankruptcy has forced public officials to consider private solutions. Police Chief James E. Craig, who took over the troubled department last year after a law-enforcement career in Los Angeles, California, Portland (Maine), and Cincinnati, made national headlines in January by citing the benefits of concealed carry, which he said created an environment where “clearly, suspects knew that good Americans were armed.”

That’s especially important where policing remains troubled. Across the country, the average response time for an emergency call is 11 minutes. In Detroit, a potential victim would wait an average of 58 minutes after calling for help. While calculating response time is not an exact science, this clearly indicates a problem in the city of Detroit. There have even been occasions where 911 dispatch services have simply failed for hours at a time. It is no wonder that citizens don’t bother calling.

The good news is that things seem to be turning around under Craig. Crime in Detroit dropped in 2013. Homicide clearance rates are also rising. In 2012, 36.6 percent of homicides were cleared (meaning a suspect was identified or it was determined that charges could not be filed), and that rate went up to 45.5 last year. As of March of this year, Detroit’s 2014 clearance rate was 92.7 percent.

The bad news is that Detroit had the same number of murders last year as New York City, which has nearly 12 times the population. It will take time to raise up a city as thoroughly broken as Detroit.

In the meantime, organizations like Threat Management Center fill the gap.

“I’m private sector,” Brown says, “which means I’m accountable.”

&mdasah; Amelia Hamilton (@ameliahammy) is a conservative blogger, fellow with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, and hockey fan.


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