Muskegon Heights Violence Surges
With six homicides in the past twelve weeks, Muskegon Heights is facing one of its worst violent crime surges in years. Such crime has plagued the thee-square-mile city for years, and solutions are hard to find and implement.
"MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI – Muskegon Heights Police Chief Lynne Gill takes the potshots made about his community to heart.
The longtime police chief wears the hurt on his face. The pain in his voice is obvious as he speaks of the city's recent rash of homicides and how it has unfairly begun to [']define['] the Muskegon Heights community.
The responsibility to put an end to the violence clearly weighs heavily on the chief's shoulders.
[']When you sit in this chair, you believe you have that duty. You do have a duty to the citizens of this community. There is pressure you put on yourself. No one could put more pressure on me that I do myself,['] he said.
[']It's hard when people want to sit around and take potshots at you. We are a law enforcement agency. We investigate crime, we solve crime and we protect and serve.[']
Gill would like to debunk the stigma the Muskegon Heights community has as being a bad place with bad people.
But he knows until the violence is curbed, that will be hard to do.
[']People have a tendency to want to lump all of these events together and they let these groups (of criminals) define the city of Muskegon Heights. That is simply not true and not fair,['] Gill said.
[']The focus is on the city of Muskegon Heights because of the violence. But it's a gun violence problem in urban communities across the nation,['] not just the city of Muskegon Heights, he said.
[']In any municipality, (you) have that 3 percent of the population that has frequent contact with police, but that's the only percentage you hear about. You don't hear about those who work every day, who take care of their children at home and those who don't have contact with police.[']
But the recent string of homicides – six from April 23 to July 11 -- certainly haven't helped the reputation of the three-square mile city that's struggled with gun violence for years.
[']We are acutely aware of the upsurge of gun violence in the city from road patrol to the detective bureau all the way to my office,['] Gill said. [']It's a tough struggle for law enforcement because we are dealing with something generational. But you can't give up. You don't give up. We don't get into this business to give up.[']
'Bad apples' cause bad reputation
The city of Muskegon Heights operates with a small police force, which includes just a dozen patrol officers, two detectives and four command officers.
The officers are busy -- hustling from one call to another and opening new investigations often.
But this isn't something specific just to the city of Muskegon Heights, Gill said, despite the city recently being compared to the city of Flint by other media outlets. Flint in 2013 topped the nation as the most violent city in America.
[']I would challenge the public, the media and everyone else to show me how Muskegon Heights is different than any other city. We have bad apples and you read about them in the paper,['] Gill said. [']Those are the people that make our city seem way worse than what it is.[']
And the police force is doing its best to put those [']bad apples['] behind bars.
The department has made some significant arrests with the help of the Muskegon County task force, Gill said, and they expect more. Gill said law enforcement is up against the gunmen, but also those who will proceed them.
[']This year we have arrested more of the heavy hitters, but it's a tough struggle for law enforcement because we are dealing with something generational. It used to be ethics and morality is passed down, but now we don't have that cycle of renewal,['] he said.
[']We have now in urban communities a generational problem where four generations of persons are involved in selling drugs, or using firearms. That cycle has to be broken.[']
The police can't do it alone, he said – something he hopes the public understands.
[']It affects everyone. It affects us all. We have to get it resolved. But once again, we can't do it ourselves and we need that assistance from our citizens,['] he said.
[']If I had a wish granted, that would be it: That we had a greater level of cooperation. With a greater level of cooperation from the public, it would reduce – possibly -- the events such as these, simply because the bad guys don't have the sense of anonymity; the sense that no one is going to tell. When it's occurring and no one is coming forward, it would cause them to continue to break the laws.[']
Cooperative effort countywide
Gill said if it weren't for the cooperation from outside agencies, the city would be much worse off in terms of criminal activity. A multi-jurisdictional task force remains in place – the Muskegon County Violent Crimes Task Force – and Gill said it's been successful.
[']It has allowed us to work all of these events with some major success. Without the task force, we would have a problem,['] he said. [']We are using all our resources including the task force, and Michigan State Police are still here on scheduled patrol.[']
The outside agency help is crucial, Gill said.
[']In order to curtail this, we have brought more resources here than in the history of Muskegon Heights. I'm always collaborating with outside agencies and bringing in new ways to fight violent crime,['] he said.
[']That's the greatest power that Muskegon County law enforcement has: The ability to work together.[']
Michigan State Police troopers began patrolling the Muskegon Heights neighborhoods back in 2008 when the Muskegon Heights Police Department had to cut nearly half the number of full-time officers because of budget shortfalls.
Michigan State Police First Lt. Chris McIntire, commander of the Rockford Post, said the trooper presence will continue in the cities of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights, along with the help of the task force.
[']There's always been a very cooperative effort in Muskegon County and we just realize that if we don't hit it head-on, it's going to spill elsewhere. The task force comes together for any major events and that's being done for all these homicides,['] McIntire said. [']Our role is to be very, very aggressive.[']
McIntire said troopers will be [']proactively conducting traffic enforcement.[']
[']If we have knuckleheads being knuckleheads, we will treat them like knuckleheads,['] he said. [']We aren't tolerating any crimes. It's just a zero tolerance for crime.[']
Helicopter patrols will continue later this summer. McIntire said he believes the air patrols have been a success and expects the same in coming months.
Gill said he hopes the rest of the year is nothing like the way the spring and summer kicked off. He urges the public to speak out about the crimes in their neighborhoods and cooperate with authorities about the unsolved homicides that are currently being investigated.
Until witnesses and victims speak out, the [']bad guys['] will continue to bring harm to the Muskegon Heights community, he said.
[']When you're dealing with any community, you always want to know why we aren't getting the level of cooperation that we like. There's the fear of reprisal, there's a distrust of people and others just don't want to be involved,['] Gill said. [']Obviously when you have all three of those things, the people who commit these atrocities will continue and, once again, it takes longer to solve these crimes.[']"