In 2020, when most of the city was locked down for nine months, the Ann Arbor Police Department recorded a total of 481 crimes in the categories we track: homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, vehicle thefts, and burglaries. That may sound like a lot, but it was 22 percent fewer than 2019—and the first time since the Crime Map began in the 1980s that the total fell below 500.
Last year’s 581 was still quite low by historic standards—from 2006–2010, the average was 899—but every category except robberies showed an increase.
As they get used to living with Covid-19, “people look to get back to normal,” says AAPD chief Mike Cox. The AAPD is seeing more simple and aggravated assaults—which aren’t tracked on the map—than they were prepandemic, from forty-eight in January 2020 to sixty in January 2022. “There’s just a lot of angry people out there,” Cox says.
“Across the county we’ve seen a significant increase, especially in violent crime,” says Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton. “It’s not surprising to me. We went through two years or so of isolation and all this trauma associated with the pandemic.”
Vehicle thefts are up slightly, Cox says, but thefts from vehicles have “jumped up significantly. In the month of January, we were up 292 percent [from January 2021] … a lot of people going in and cutting out the catalytic converters and stealing things from the vehicle itself.” Of the fifty-four thefts from vehicles in January, twenty-eight of those were catalytic converters. And, Cox admits, “we haven’t been very successful in catching anybody. The AAPD made two arrests in fiscal 2021, but none since the current fiscal year began last July.
The department weathered the “Defund the Police” movement relatively unscathed—in the last two fiscal years it lost five sworn officer positions, bringing the total to 122. But Cox believes that what he calls “the dehumanization of police” has accelerated retirements of veteran officers and made it harder to hire new ones. In April he was down to 106 officers, and that was after three new ones were sworn in. They’ve got four recruits in training and are actively recruiting more, but “the reality is not as many people are applying,” Cox says.
“In a small department, it doesn’t take very much for it to start to impact your daily duties,” the chief continues. “So it is fairly stressful for a lot of people here because the demands aren’t being cut back.” So his people “may be forced to work a little bit more than they should. That means they’re away from their families a little bit more than they should.”
Clayton has hiring challenges, too, but he also sees a different danger: “What has happened in the past nationally is crime rises [and] people panic. They want more police. They tell the police to get aggressive. The police go into communities and arrest across the board—more traffic stops, more contacts.
“And we know that the largest percentage of people in those communities, they aren’t doing anything wrong,” Clayton continues. “We need to address specifically urban violence in a targeted way. And we can do it all at the front end [by] proactively investing in the community.”
In a follow-up email, the sheriff explains that a small group of individuals both commit and experience high rates of gun violence. Since many also have traumatic histories and housing and educational challenges, “[w]e must offer them the option of personal accountability while working to address many of their underlying conditions … For those individuals that are committed to continuing the violence, then they will face the legal consequences of their actions.
“Finally, we must always remember our victims,” Clayton adds. “We must uplift the voices of the family of victims. We cannot spend all of our time and resources on the folks that are pulling the trigger.”