By: Shannan O’Neil
Capital News Service
LANSING- In the 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America sharpened the need for safety, nearly 4,000 Michigan police officers have been laid off.
Michigan did increase its defenses with technology funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Nicole Lisabeth, public information officer for the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.
Technology has helped advance communications between agencies, its neighboring states and Canada through, the Michigan Public Safety Communication System.
“We’re safer in the area of protecting our critical infrastructure,” Lisabeth said.
Homeland security has received a lot of money but state budget cuts caused officer layoffs.
“Since September 11, 2001, when we were viciously attacked by our enemies, we have laid off an entire platoon,” said Terrence Jungel, director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.
Jungel says the government’s greatest responsibility is safety.
“It doesn’t matter how nice your parks are, it doesn’t matter how nice your roads are, if you’re not safe from crime and you’re not safe from people who would do you harm,” said Jungel.
Michigan has received $471 million in federal homeland security grants from U.S. Department of Homeland Security since 2001. About 80 percent of these funds have gone to local departments to enhance response capabilities whether it be buying equipment or paying overtime, Lisabeth said. The rest stays at the state level to work on projects like the Michigan Public Safety Communication System.
Fewer police means that when you report someone breaking in, stealing your car or assaulting you, an officer may not be able to come out immediately, Jungel said. Departments increasingly have crime victims fill out reports online or report crimes over the telephone.
But technology can fail, making this not the perfect solution, he said.
“The problem with technology is it’s impersonal and it can’t respond to crime,” said Jungel.
Education and public safety are often cut first, he said. Economic development often gets much of the funding because it’s an improvement that can be seen.
“I think the problem is we don’t produce a tangible product,” Jungel said. “We don’t have a widget you can hold in your hand and say, ‘this is a really good product and I want to buy it.’”
In Emmet County, the police department isn’t facing huge layoffs but they do notice the drop in State police in their area, said Emmet Country Sheriff Peter A. Wallin. The county is lucky because resort homes and tourism bring in more money for their department, he said.
For next year, Emmet County will face a 10 percent budget cut in the secondary road patrol division, he said.
“I hate to say it,” said Wallin, “we’re doing just as much but with less money.”
Shanon Banner, manager of public affairs for the State Police, said how much Michigan has saved through officer lay offs is unknown.
Police departments may not have a product but they produce a service important to every citizen, Jungel said. Although reports say fewer felons are going to jail, that doesn’t mean there are fewer felons on the loose, Jungel said. Police just aren’t able to catch them all. Michigan police arrest only 32 percent of criminals in connection with misdemeanors and felonies, according to Michigan State Police.
Businesses look at two things when choosing their location: crime rates and education, Jungel said.
“You can’t reduce law enforcement and expect crime to go down,” Jungel said. “Bad guys read the paper, bad guys know when law enforcement isn’t present.” That drives away business.
“We should be embarrassed by our recidivism among parolees, said Jungel. “When we begin to release people prior to the end of their sentence we set the public up to be victimized by somebody who should have been in prison.”
Without proper discipline, criminals are not going to learn, causing crime to increase and safety to decrease, said Jungel.
Jungel said it’s hypocritical in believing Michigan is safer with a mass of officers being laid off.
“It’s disingenuous to say we ratchet up our war on terrorism then lay off a platoon of our front line protectors,” said Jungel.
By: Shannan O’Neil