DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The number of police officers in Michigan is down 16 percent since 2001 as local governments with falling tax revenue trim departments or rely on other agencies to patrol the streets, a newspaper reported Monday.
Some communities are refusing to raise property taxes and are turning law enforcement over to the county sheriff’s office or state police.
Ed Jacques, with the Police Officers Association of Michigan, says cities hit hard include Detroit and Flint.
“It’s unfortunate that, in many cases, public safety has been cut as much as other departments in some municipalities and counties,” Jacques told WWJ Newsradio 950. “That sort of flies in the face of what, you know, the citizens number one request is of their local government, and that is, you know, to be safe.”
Jacques said fewer officers means longer response times.
Benton Harbor in southwestern Michigan may close its department to save millions.
Even if residents vote to tax themselves for police services, “it’s pretty rare to find a community not impacted in some way,” said David Harvey, director of the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, which sets statewide standards for law enforcement.
Michigan had nearly 19,000 police officers at the end of October, compared to more than 22,000 in 2001 when the economy was stronger, The Detroit News reported Monday, citing numbers from the commission.
A poor economy has reduced the value of property, which then reduces the amount of money available to run police and fire departments. Many cities lost population or reported no gains in the past decade, especially Detroit, whose population is down 25 percent.
Oakland County’s Waterford Township has 50 officers compared to 106 in 1999 and could be losing more after voters rejected a $3.6 million millage.
“If the millage would have passed, we would have been able to hire 25-30 people. Now we’re trying to figure out how to keep what we have,” Chief Dan McCaw said.
In White Lake Township, two trustees were defeated in August when they mentioned the possibility of taking police dispatch duties outside the department. Voters approved a millage renewal in the same election.
“It’s disheartening. Suddenly I was being smeared on the Internet and in newspaper editorial letters as in favor of `outsourcing’ the police department,” former Trustee Todd Birkle said.
The Macomb County sheriff’s office was hired to patrol six townships and cities and soon will add New Haven, which had eight officers. Taxpayers will save $400,000 a year, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said.
“Economics comes into play when deciding at what level to maintain your own police department – or not,” he said.
Benton Harbor is considering a similar arrangement with Berrien County. Some residents, however, want to keep a local police force.
“You need a local police department with people from the community who are familiar with the culture and the families. Not strangers,” Emma Kinard, 59, said at a Dec. 4 meeting.
Saginaw has at least 29 homicides this year, the most since 1993. It has 75 officers, the lowest number in more than 35 years, The Saginaw News reported Monday.
“With things going on in the community now, we need the police more than ever,” councilman Norman Braddock said. “But we can’t have what we don’t pay for.”
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