GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The murder rate in Grand Rapids hit a 50-year low in 2014.
There were six murders in the city in 2014 in comparison to 17 in 2013; a single-year drop in murders of nearly 65 percent.
Grand Rapids police said none of the six murders were the result of the use of firearms. The weapons used in three of the cases were knives, and three were assaults with hands or feet.
“That’s an oddity that we’ve not seen in a very long time,” Grand Rapids Police Department Lt. Pat Merrill told 24 Hour News 8.
A third of the murder suspects are female. Merrill called that a “shockingly high percentage.”
“We’ve not seen that before ever,” the 18-year GRPD veteran continued.
The average number of murders in the city over the last 24 years is 17.3.
The deadliest year in Grand Rapids was in 1993, when 34 people were murdered. The number of murders per year in Grand Rapids didn’t drop below 20 until 1999.
Part of the problem in the 1990s, Merrill said, was drugs.
“You’re at the tale end of the crack era in ’92, heavy gang activity, a lot of intergang rivalry,” Merrill said.
Then, a millage was passed and more officers were hired.
“A lot of folks went to prison in that era,” Merrill said.
John McKinney was one of them. He is the former chief of the Conservative Vice Lords gang in Grand Rapids.
“It was a war zone out here. You had a lot of good people, but there were cats running wild and there were people trying to get it how they could get it and in the process a lot of innocent people got hurt,” he said.
Now, he said, the motivation for crimes has changed.
“Difference then was people were killing for real money. What’s going on now is crime of opportunity,” he said.
So what changed?
“I think a lot of people grew up. A lot of people like myself got incarcerated. We lost a lot of friends. And that deeply impacted us, impacted our decision,” McKinney said.
Merrill said that as the crack era came to an end going into the 2000s. And new DNA technology became accessible.
“We’ve seen improved conviction rate. We’re seeing us pursue cases that 20, 30 years ago we would’ve simply had to walk away from,” Merrill said.
Many of the homicides in the mid-1990s were connected to the then-infamous Wealthy Street Boys gang. A federal drug bust in 1997 signaled the end of that gang, after which there was a resurgence in the southeast-side neighborhood the gang had claimed. See archive coverage of that bust below:
Merrill said the declining figures in recent years were the result of “good, consistent work. Consistency is the name of the game.”
But he said there is no time to pause and celebrate.
“There’s no halftime in law enforcement,” he said. “You don’t get to dump the Gatorade. It’s unfortunate in this industry, there’s no time for celebration. That’s six murders. One murder is one murder too many. But you don’t get into this job because you think you can win; you get into the job because there are things worth fighting for and peace and justice are those things.”