As luck would have it, air fare from Myrtle Beach, NC to Detroit in the dead of winter is dirt cheap. We made plans to crash with an old friend out on 23-Mile (farm land), put in for some time off and away we went.
Firstly, you need to understand that of all the things we did in Detroit, the most dangerous, in my opinion, was simply driving. Our rental car (Dollar Rental) had a side wall puncture that left us a bit low on the road in the left front quarter at a few bad times (those bozos wouldn't pay for us to replace the tire, and it didn't get real bad until the weekend). But more importantly, we wound up way too close to a couple of drivers who were clearly way too drunk on the freeway.
That said, we did go poking around in some of the most dangerous gang turf in the US -- neighborhoods where bulldozed lots and burned out rotting houses often outnumbered occupied dwellings by about 10 to 1. While in the ghettos (and we spent the better part of several days in these sprawling seas of desolation), we saw exactly zero police cars, zero ambulances and zero fire trucks. The deepest spot we actually saw the police was right on Jefferson, which is such a major artery that it doesn't really count. And that time, what we saw was (and I kid you not) one patrol car pushing a broken down patrol car down the street. Apparently bankrupt Detroit can't pay for a tow truck to haul in a cop car.
Now, Julia's dad retired from the Detroit Police Dept, so we have nothing against the men and women who bust butt and risk their necks trying to hold Motown together. But "it is what it is," and what it is ain't great.
Arson is a really big problem in Detroit. A family member whose husband works for the city fire department told us they have an excellent forensics team and that they catch most of Detroit's arsonists. Julia and I feel very skeptical of this statement. The sheer magnitude of arson in Detroit would suggest that their jails couldn't possibly hold even half of the responsible parties. But we have no data to back that gut feeling up. That same relative told us a lot of the arson is committed in an attempt to destroy evidence in more serious crimes, like rapes and murders. While we were there a big apartment building was burned to the ground in the middle of the night by a guy who was trying to destroy evidence of a sexual assault, so this seems believable. (BTW -- several residents had to jump out of windows to get out of that fire).
Interestingly, from a self-defense perspective, the only quasi-law-enforcement we saw in the Ghettos was a single SUV marked as being a part of a "Citizens' Radio Patrol." We didn't get a chance to talk to those guys. They scooted past us on one of countless un-plowed snowy streets, in a ghetto neighborhood that we'd just commented seemed remarkably intact. Apparently guys like them are why that neighborhood was noticeably less damaged. I'm assuming that they're supposed to act as a neighborhood watch, with the ability to call the cops on radios and a bunch of guys volunteering to patrol in private vehicles. I'd be willing to bet that they'd probably be quick to hop out of that SUV with a shotgun if they saw someone trying to torch a house or car jack someone -- though I'm certain they're told not to do anything more than get on the radio (to a police department that can't even afford a tow truck).
It was bitter cold in the early part of our week, when we did most of our exploring. And that was a good thing, because there were very few people on the streets. The snow cover prevented me from gauging patterns of local gunfire from spent casings, but I did spot the pistol magazine you see in the photo here, at the corner of I-75 and Mack. Looks like a .25 ACP magazine from a Raven or similar inexpensive pistol. I walked across a public school yard to pick it up from the side of the exit ramp, where it had melted out of a snow bank. Interestingly enough, we never heard a single gunshot in Detroit the entire time we were there. And I only remember hearing an emergency vehicle siren once. We think it was an ambulance, but never saw it. Detroit was really hunkered down -- gang bangers and all. We saw a few prostitutes out on the streets, and they were a sad sight, but little else that clearly looked like illegal activity in progress.
We did some fooling around, but for those of you travelling to "The Big D," I gotta tell ya -- that place ain't no foolin' around. Much of it is hard core gang land, with a very disfunctional government and a serious shortage of police, fire and rescue assets. Tread lightly.