May 26, 2015

SVSU study supports link between blight elimination and drop in Saginaw crime

Saginaw Valley State University researchers have found a connection between a recent drop in Saginaw's violent crime rate and a Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) initiative aimed at eliminating blighted structures from the city.

Andrew Miller, SVSU assistant professor of geography, led the study. He presented the findings during a Tuesday, May 26 symposium that also will feature U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and Saginaw Mayor Dennis Browning. The event will focus on Saginaw's community development since receiving $11.2 million in MSHDA funds to demolish abandoned homes beginning in late 2013.

Miller's analysis was commissioned by Saginaw City Hall officials looking to track the impact of the MSHDA funds the city received. He said the study represents SVSU's dedication both to community interaction and hands-on learning.

“This is a local university using local information to solve local problems,” Miller said. “On top of that, we're using local students with skills they attained at a local university to service their communities.”

Beginning in April, Miller performed statistical analysis while two of his students were responsible for much of the study's data management and GIS work. Those students were Mitchell Kloc, a professional and technical writing major from Freeland, and Daniel Johnson, a criminal justice major from Sparta who graduated in May. Johnson continued working on the project after he completed his studies.

Miller on Tuesday will discuss how his latest research revealed that the MSHDA-funded demolitions correlated with a decrease in “priority one crimes” in Saginaw. Those crimes include homicides, burglaries, robberies, arsons and aggravated assaults.

John Stemple, Saginaw's chief inspector, said he and other City Hall officials turned to SVSU to conduct the study because of the university's strong record of community engagement.

“The City of Saginaw has partnered with SVSU on several occasions with positive results, including participation in the multi-jurisdictional Saginaw County Crime Prevention Council, resulting in a crime statistics basis for creating crime measurement tools,” Stemple said.

In 2013-14, Miller and SVSU undergraduate students conducted research that helped Saginaw law enforcement leaders better understand the city's crime “hot spots.” That research received national media attention, and led to a related study that extended to the county level in 2014-15.

City officials are pleased with SVSU’s community commitment and encouraged by the research findings.

“It is because of these long-standing relationships, the faculty and students' commitment to seeing Saginaw prosper - and ultimately a report prepared by SVSU - which tells us we are on the road to prosperity,” Stemple said.

Reported incidents of part one crimes dropped from 2,631 in 2012 to 2,115 in 2013, when the MSHDA funds were made available for the latter part of the year. The crime figure dropped to 1,868 in 2014, marking a 29 percent reduction over that two-year span.

To date, MSHDA has funded the demolition of 599 abandoned structures; law enforcement experts say such blight contributes to crime. The MSHDA money will fund 301 more demolitions. That would eliminate half of the estimated 1,800 abandoned homes the city counted in 2013.

Miller's study also tracked trends in specific neighborhoods. The research showed crime “hot spots” had cooled in the areas where the concentration of demolition was heaviest. Those neighborhoods largely were located specifically in Saginaw's Houghton-Jones and Cathedral districts.

Other contributing factors to the drop in crime include the assignment of Michigan State Police patrols to the city as well as a decline in Saginaw's population, Miller said.

The May 26 symposium will be hosted by Bancroft Luxury Apartments, 107 S. Washington in Saginaw. A 9:30 a.m. press conference kicked off the event.

In 2015, SVSU received the Community Engagement classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a distinction achieved by only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities. For more on SVSU's community engagement, visit svsu.edu/communityengagement/.