Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Budget woes weaken local police services

By NYSSA RABINOWITZ
Capital News Service

LANSING – With funds dwindling and no new money coming in, local police departments may be forced to cut services to make ends meet, officials predict.

“Everybody is stretched awfully thin right now due to budget constraints,” said Chris Luty, president of the Michigan State Police Troopers Association in East Lansing. “With fewer police officers to cover needs, services are going to suffer.”

With budgets shrinking, some local governments are pushing millages to provide more funds for offices, but some millages aren’t passing, said Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police based in Okemos.

This year for example, 12 of 13 Ingham County townships rejected police-related ballot proposals, as did voters in Washtenaw County’s Augusta Township and the village of Birch Run in Saginaw County.

“Our population is so averse to taxes that, regardless of the merits for it, they are voting against it,” Hendrickson said. “We’re between a rock and a hard place. There really aren’t any other revenues.”

However, some communities this year approved police funding millages, including Baroda and Benton townships in Berrien County.

Decreasing property values cause property taxes to fall, which means less revenue for local governments, Hendrickson said.

To cut costs, the Newberry Village Council disbanded its police department, relying on the Luce County Sheriff’s Department instead, said village manager Beverly Holmes.

“What we did is contracted with the county sheriff’s department to provide police services,” Holmes said.

The police department cost about $300,000 a year, Holmes said, and accounted for most of the village’s budget.

Voters rejected a millage for police funding, Holmes said, and with officers retiring and no money to replace them, it was more cost-effective to pay the sheriff.

Response time may not be as quick for ordinance violations now, Holmes said, but emergency response time has remained excellent despite the change.

In contrast to the disbanding of the Newberry department, the pending dissolution of the Pontiac Police Department and the shutdown this month of the Parma-Sandstone Police Department in Jackson County, Hendrickson said, “It’s rare for a department to completely disband.”

Instead, some departments may not keep any officers on duty at certain parts of the day, relying on the sheriff’s office and State Police to fill those gaps, Hendrickson said.

But deputy sheriffs and state troopers may also be unavailable, Hendrickson said. “The biggest problem is response time to high-priority problems.”

That’s the situation for the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department, which will have its budget reduced for the fifth time in five years, said Undersheriff Allan Spyke.

In 2006, 34 deputies were funded to provide law enforcement services for the county’s townships, Spyke said. There will be only 12 deputies left to cover the 466 square miles and about 33,500 people in 2011.

“We just aren’t going to have the resources available to provide the type of police service that they have had in the past,” Spyke said. “We’re get there eventually, but we just can’t guarantee when.”

The Trooper’s Association’s Luty said that with fewer people to cover more area, priorities are necessary to determine which calls get answered first.

“Crimes against persons are always going to take priority” over burglary or destruction of property, Luty said.

Ingham County’s Spyke said, “We want to provide services to citizens and ensure they are safe, but you can’t do that without bodies. You can’t do that without deputies and troopers.

“You can’t continue to cut police officers and expect the same level of public safety,” Spyke added.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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