When cities are strapped, police cuts follow

Dec 17, 2012

The impact of economic problems are often likened to waves. And the waves of Michigan's economic crisis are still rolling up onto the shores in cities around the state.

The Detroit News looked at the numbers of police cuts and how communities react to these cuts.

The data from the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards show that since 2003, the state has lost more than 2,000 police positions in total.

Communities react to the cuts by completely disbanding their departments, as Pontiac did, or by trying to raise more revenue.

But as the events in the struggling city of Benton Harbor show, residents are not always willing to tax themselves more to keep their police departments intact.

From the Detroit News:

Those concerns were on display earlier this month here in Benton Harbor, which is considering closing its Police Department to help pay off $5 million in debt.

About 300 people packed a public meeting Dec. 4 to discuss the city's options, which include having Berrien County Sheriff's deputies take over patrols or levying a special assessment or property tax of 15 mills.

Among those arguing to keep the city's police force was the Rev. Edward Pinkney of the God House of Faith Baptist Church.

"It's turmoil here," he said. "People are very upset and confused. They don't trust or want the Sheriff's Department. They have had enough."

"You need a local police department with people from the community who are familiar with the culture and the families," resident Emma Kinard, 59, told city officials. "Not strangers."

Yet city voters last month rejected two public safety millages that would have raised $1.4 million a year and headed off the possibility of closing the department.

City leaders in the state can be put between a rock and a hard place when residents won't increase revenues, but yet complain about plans to close stations or consolidate with county-run departments. And where local police can't respond, some communities are leaning on State Police services which are being cut as well: 

As of Nov. 10, there were 954 at-post troopers, compared with 1,344 in 2001. As part of a regional policing plan, the state police shut 33 of 62 posts to the public in the past two years, spokeswoman Shanon Banner said.

Timpner, of the Michigan Association of Police, remains unconvinced communities realize much savings from cutting police budgets, "other than a couple police chiefs' salaries."

"There are still overtime and benefits costs," he said. "I don't see how it has helped."