New technology would make 911 better, but at a cost

By JINGJING NIE
Capital News Service

LANSING — An improved emergency 911 system would allow Michigan residents to text police if they are held hostage by an active shooter.

Crime victims could text for help without alerting a burglar in the next room.

And police could accurately locate crime victims who use cell phones to report when they are threatened.

But lawmakers are now struggling to figure out how to pay for the expansion of the new system called Next Generation 911.

“The problem we have right now is many 911 centers around the state are only able to trace a call to a landline,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who has introduced a bill to expand the Next Generation 911 system beyond the 33 counties that have it now.  “However, most people nowadays are changing to cellphones.”

The current 911 system is almost 40 years old. Meanwhile, around 70 percent of 911 calls are made from cellphones that cannot be accurately traced, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Michigan residents now pay 19 cents a month for state 911 fees per device. Prepaid wireless users pay 1.92 percent per retail transaction.

If the bill passes, the state 911 fees would go up to 25 cents per month, and prepaid wireless users would pay 4.53 percent per retail transaction.

Without the change, even the counties that already have Next Generation 911 will lose it when their funding runs out next year, said Harriet Miller-Brown, the state 911 coordinator.

“Even though they have it, it won’t be paid for, and there is no more money for new counties to join,” Miller-Brown said.

Next Generation 911 makes it easier for dispatchers to help each other out when they are flooded with calls, said Thom Sumbler, vice president of sales and business development for Peninsula Fiber Network, which installs systems for counties.

Dispatchers are flooded with calls when accidents happen, said Sumbler. ”There might be only two or three people taking calls and they might be getting 25-30 calls at one time,”

If someone called in about an unrelated heart attack, the call might not go through with the old system, he said. With the Next Generation 911, calls can be routed to dispatch centers that are less busy.

“This is an enormous improvement,” Sumbler said.

Next Generation 911 also allows users to text to 911.

“Always call when you can, text when you can’t,” said Jason Torrey, director of Grand Traverse County Central Dispatch/911 and the president of the Michigan Communication Directors Association.

But under certain circumstances, text is the better option.

“If you’re a victim of domestic violence and the assailant is in the immediate vicinity and you don’t feel safe placing a voice call, you can use that text solution to silently notify dispatch and 911 that you need help,” Torrey said. “We’ve had that occur, right here in our own town.”

The feature is also helpful for people who are deaf or partially deaf, Torrey said.

Next Generation 911 is also more reliable.

“With the older system, one backhoe digging the line somewhere can take out multiple 911 centers,” said Torrey.

With the newer system, there is always another route so that call can be delivered, he said.

“There are so many opportunities and so much diversity that you can have with this new network,” said Torrey.

The bill was referred to Energy and Technology Committee.

Debate continues over whether 17 is an adult or a juvenile

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Public policy advocates say it’s common sense to raise the age for a person to be tried in Michigan criminal courts as an adult from 17 to 18 years old.

The reason is, young people in adult prisons are at higher risk for sexual assault, restraint, solitary confinement and suicide, they say.

“We are a super-minority in the nation when it comes to the age of criminal responsibility for kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Placing them in juvenile facilities also gives them a better chance to rehabilitate, advocates say.

“In contrast, young people in the juvenile justice system have opportunities for education, rehabilitative programs and interventions that may help them to succeed,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director of the Juvenile Law Center, a national public interest law firm.

But county officials are unsure who will pay for the hundreds of 17-year-olds and younger in the adult system who would move to juvenile facilities.

Lowering the age would create a lot of changes to the juvenile justice system, and the counties could be unprepared for those changes, said Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Association of Counties.

Currently, the state and the counties are responsible for the upkeep and care of prisons. Counties pay for juvenile facilities.

Bills passed the  House in 2016 to raise the age from 17-years-old to 18-years-old but the Senate is waiting for a cost study commissioned by the Legislature before moving the bills.

The Association of Counties has been worried about the pending bills in the past for monetary reasons. County funding has been down since the 2008 recession, and the state is underfunding county programs, it says.

Furthermore, the  association says the proposed legislation does not require the state to cover additional local costs.

Costs are expected to go up for counties but the actual amount is unknown and will depend on the results of the cost study that was commissioned by the Legislature, Bosworth said.

The cost study is expected to be released within months. The study will look to see if there are savings for treating 17-year-olds as adults.

Since potential costs are unknown, the impact on counties financially is unknown but rural and more northern counties could feel a larger burden, Bosworth said.

The Human Impact Partners, a national public policy research and advocacy group, studied juvenile facilities, adult facilities and community-based programming in Michigan. To house a youth in a juvenile facility costs nearly $179,000 a year while to house a youth in an adult facility it costs just over $40,000 per year.

The counties are worried they won’t be able to adequately fund the transition of prisoners from the adult system to the juvenile system and afford the higher costs of the juvenile system.

Advocates are adamant that the age for adult prisons needs to be raised. Michigan is one of only five states in which the age to be tried as an adult is not 18..

Kids who commit crimes need rehabilitation at a facility equipped to handle their developmental status and recognizes they are not adults, Guevara-Warren said.

“In other parts of our laws, 17-year-olds aren’t old enough to vote, they’re not legally old enough to drop out of school, they’re not old enough to buy fireworks,” Guevara Warren said.

Other reasons to raise the age stem from the more supportive treatment of young people in juvenile systems, which allows them to stay in touch with families and communities.

“It’s designed to help young people with their education and to provide treatment and rehabilitation,” Feierman said. “When the juvenile justice system is really working well, it is an intervention that helps young people. The criminal justice system just isn’t designed to fulfill those goals.”

The battle over raising the age, however, is not about the policy implications but over how to pay for it.

Feierman and Guevara Warren said states are recognizing the age raise is better policy and better financially in the long run.

“Youth prosecuted as adults earn 40 percent less over their lifetime than youth in the juvenile justice system which translates in a loss of state tax revenue and economic productivity,” Guevara Warren said.

Fantasy sports websites may have to pay for state license

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan could join 16 states in regulating fantasy sports that offer cash prizes.

Bills that have been approved in committee seek to clarify fantasy sports as a dominantly skill-based game exempt from gambling laws. Right now they are unregulated in Michigan — anyone can sponsor a league and anyone can play.

The bills would bar anyone under 18 from playing the games and bar contests from being based on youth sports, high school sports or college sports. They also would  require operators of the games, including FanDuel and DraftKings, to apply for a license to operate in the state.

A license would cost $5,000 and have an annual $1,000 renewal fee.

The attorney general has not labeled fantasy sports gambling.

The bills, put forward by Sens. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, label fantasy sports as a game of skill, not gambling. They passed the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee 7-0 and were recommended to the Senate floor without amendment.

Hertel testified before the  committee on Oct. 11, saying he felt the games needed regulation to avoid a ruling by the attorney general and to avoid potentially having more than a million residents breaking the law. If the attorney general decides the games are gambling, they would be regulated by the gambling laws.

Players select fake teams of real life athletes and compete against each other. Points are awarded based on the real-life athletes’ statistics collected in the game that day or week. Winners of the leagues often receive monetary prizes.

Skill games are based on strategy and knowledge of the game. Fantasy sports could be considered skill-based because players have to research the athletes, the team they play for and allocate money properly to craft the right team.

Supporters of daily fantasy sports say the games are skill-based as it takes a certain level of knowledge to consistently craft winning teams.

“It is a difficult skill to allocate assets and choose which players have the best chance of success, similar to how a pro sports team general manager does the same thing,” said Marc LaVorgna, a press representative for DraftKings and FanDuel, the two main daily for-profit fantasy sports websites.

LaVorgna also provided real-world sports as an example of skill-based decisions, as real sports executives must make decisions on which players will be beneficial to team goals.

“It’s about making decisions on a consistent basis that give you the best chance at success,” he said.

Gambling-based games have to meet the criteria of prize, consideration and uncertain outcome in Michigan, said David Murley, deputy director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. Prize is the reward given out to winners. Consideration is buying into the game, such as putting a dollar into a slot machine or buying a lottery ticket.

“What if something is a game of skill? Well, if there’s an uncertain outcome and it meets the other two things, then at least it would seem to fall in the broad definition of gambling,” Murley said.

Supporters of fantasy games argue that it’s a skill because its based on their knowledge of the sport, its players and the strategy of creating teams capable of scoring a lot of points.

The popularity of fantasy games has grown into daily fantasy sports in which players pay into the league that day. They construct teams under a salary cap where each real athlete costs a certain amount of money to be placed on a team.

Cash prizes are awarded to the winner based on the fees paid by the players that day. Two of the most popular websites for daily fantasy are FanDuel and DraftKings.

The Gaming Control Board hasn’t taken a position on whether fantasy sports are gambling or skill based.

But it’s not clear-cut, as elements of both skill and chance are at play.

“Sometimes it’s not easy to draw the line between where the skill ends and the chance begins,” Murley said.

According to Hertel’s testimony, approximately 1.6 million Michigan residents partake in some form of fantasy sports for cash. These bills would mean exemption from gambling laws, clarification over just where the games fall and regulation of the fantasy sports sites.

The bills call for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to conduct licensing.

The Gaming Control Board argues that it’s the best fit to manage the operation, however.

“This is our business,” Murley said. “We’re in this world. We know things about consumer protection, we know things about gaming payouts, we know about licensing these people and some of the issues we’re likely to see. We know about entities that are part of a larger enterprise.”

Murley said the gaming board is familiar with larger companies that own gaming divisions such as Dan Gilbert’s Greektown Casino in Detroit and the Ilitch family’s MotorCity Casino. With this knowledge, it argues it can better serve consumers.

“If we’re going to have this, then really this should go to the gaming control board,” Murley said.

Major recycling scam ends in indictment

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — A bogus scheme to build an eco-friendly “green energy” waste processing facility in Detroit defrauded lenders and investors — including Chinese investors hoping to qualify for U.S. visas — of $4,475,000, according to a federal grand jury.

Project promoter Ronald Van Den Heuvel promised the victims that his Green Box-Detroit would build and operate a facility to recycle paper, process other waste and produce synthetic fuel, the indictment charged.

He also sought approval from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) to issue $95 million to $125 million in tax-exempt bonds toward the project’s $200 million price tag, legal documents said.

In a related civil suit against Van Den Heuvel and Green Box-Detroit, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said, “He claimed that he had developed a breakthrough recycling process that could turn post-consumer waste into usable products. He represented that the Green Box process would be both environmentally friendly and profitable, and would allow Green Box-Detroit to repay investors.”

But it was a scam because Van Den Heuvel never acquired the promised facility or equipment and used the money for other purposes, the indictment said.

The Detroit scheme was disclosed in a broad indictment accusing Van Den Heuvel of fraudulently obtaining more than $9 million in investments and loans in Wisconsin and Michigan between 2011 and 2015. He promised to “turn post-consumer waste from sources like fast food restaurants completely into usable consumer products and energy,” the U.S. Attorney’s office in Milwaukee said in announcing the indictment.

“As represented by Van Den Heuvel, the Green Box business plan was to purchase the equipment and facilities necessary to employ a proprietary process that could convert solid waste into consumer products and energy, without any wastewater discharge or landfilling of byproducts,” the indictment said.

Van Den Heuvel, who lives in De Pere, Wisconsin, diverted more than $3.9 million of the $9 million for personal uses, the indictment and SEC suit said. Among them: $44,000 for Green Bay Packers football tickets; $57,000 for court-ordered support for his ex-wife; $89,000 for a new Cadillac Escalade; $16,570 for his children’s private school tuition; and $33,000 for his wife’s dental work.

He also falsified financial statements that “grossly inflated his personal wealth and his companies’ assets,” the indictment said.

His defense lawyer, Robert LeBell of Milwaukee, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The primary victims of the Detroit project were nine investors from China who poured $4,475,000 into the failed endeavor. They’d hoped to become permanent residents — green card-holders — by investing at least $500,000 each under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services EB-5 Immigrant Investment Program.

Van Den Heuvel worked through Green Detroit Regional Center, which is owned by a Georgia law firm that is authorized to operate in Wayne, Livingston, St. Claire, Lapeer and Macomb counties, court documents said. The center finds “foreign clients, mainly from China and South Korea, to invest in large alternative energy projects,” according to its website.

The Green Box-Detroit project was portrayed as creating 35 direct and indirect jobs per each Chinese investor.

“Green Detroit Regional Center promoted the EB-5 investments in Green Box Detroit based on Van Den Heuvel’s representations,” the SEC suit said. It said the chief executive officer of the Green Detroit Regional Center, Georgia lawyer Simon Ahn, marketed the project to investors through immigration consultants in China.

Neither Ahn nor Green Detroit Regional Center have been charged or sued by the SEC.

Ahn said, “If the charges are true, it is completely shocking to learn about the extent that Ron Van Den Heuvel hid the truth from me,” the center and investors.

“All of us visited the plants in Wisconsin many times, including the potential site in Detroit, and everything checked out fine. All the financials from a recognized accounting firm indicated that everything was proceeding on track, Ahn said.

The SEC suit said Van Den Heuvel falsely told investors that the MEDC had approved tax exempt bonds for the project. However, the MEDC rejected the request after discovering five tax liens, one construction lien, two state tax warrants, four civil judgments and three civil lawsuits, according to court documents.

“Van Den Heuvel did not satisfy MEDC’s concerns. He did not provide additional information to the MEDC, and did not provide a satisfactory explanation for the issues that it had raised,” the SEC suit said.

MEDC vice president of marketing and communications Emily Guerrant said “Yes, they did approach us. No, we never engaged with them.”

Ahn said it is likely that a receivership will be established to help Chinese investors recoup their money. He said it is “hard to determine at this point” whether they will qualify for green cards.

The grand jury accused Van Den Heuvel of wire fraud and illegal financial transactions. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, the federal government is seeking to recoup the proceeds of the alleged fraud.

Earlier this month, Van Den Heuvel pleaded guilty under a separate 2016 indictment in a bank fraud conspiracy case. Charges against his wife and a bank loan officer in that case are still open.

State agencies unite to reduce mental illness in jails

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Up to 64 percent of county jail inmates in Michigan have some form of mental illness.

And while lawmakers discuss ways to reduce that number, law enforcement officers have put their own solutions to the test.

“Police chiefs are saying, ‘We’re spending tons of time with individuals with severe mental illness in the community and then we’re bringing them to jail,’” said Ross Buitendorp, a board member of the Mental Health Diversion Council.

Jails have become mental health hospitals, said Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Koops estimates between 45 and 65 percent of county jail inmates receive some form of psychotropic medication for mental illness, and 90 to 95 percent have some type of substance abuse problems.

Jails are not the best places to treat people with mental illness, Buitendorp said, so agencies are working together to identify and treat those who need help.

Law enforcement agencies are tackling the problem by increasing use of a decades-old program called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, Buitendorp said. The 40-hour class trains officers to better identify people with mental illness, and intervene in a smarter way.

A CIT-trained officer can recognize symptoms that someone who is suicidal, bipolar or schizophrenic might show during times of stress.

“What the officer does is look at the behavior of the person in front of them, and run it against the symptoms they’ve been trained in,” said Rafael Diaz, a lieutenant with the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department. “So when they see these things, they can separate the conduct driven by a mental health crisis as opposed to criminal conduct.”

The goal after recognizing those symptoms is slowing things down. Officers have time on their side, Diaz said.

“They’re going to try to open lines of communication using a set of skills called ‘active listening,’” Diaz said.

Active listening is an effort to hear what the person is saying. That can take time because many mentally ill patients have thought-process problems. But a successful attempt can calm the individuals instead of further agitating them.

In addition to keeping people with mental illness out of jail, CIT training also emphasizes diverting patients already behind bars to a mental care facility. Officials without such training are much less likely to move a person with a mental health crisis to an appropriate facility.

While Michigan doesn’t keep track of the reduced number of injuries during these interactions, other cities like Memphis, Tennessee, where CIT training has been in wider use, show the training works, Diaz said.

So Michigan agencies are doing more of it. The Community Mental Health Board of Clinton, Ingham and Eaton Counties reports 95 cases of the method used in the last year. lt expects to have 160 officers trained before 2018.

Buitendorp is also the director of substance abuse at Network180, a community health agency in Kent County that has helped train 80 officers.

“The police departments and the emergency departments are our biggest fans and our biggest partners,” Buitendorp said, “because we all serve the same clients.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says the increased training is a great first step to addressing larger issues like mass incarceration of undeserving individuals.

“Recognizing that mental health issues are at the base of a lot of these criminal charges is so important,” said Shelli Weisenberg, ACLU’s political director. “Putting the resources for the training, creating those collaborations even though we don’t have resources in place, it’s a fabulous first start.”

The money comes from grants distributed by the federal government and the jail-diversion committee, donations from organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness and increased commitments from police agencies willing to send officers to be trained.

For example, Oakland County has a mental crisis center, called Common Ground, designed for people needing immediate mental help. It’s an important stop for many police officers who need to drop off a mentally ill person, said Jeff Kapuscinski, the director of business development at the agency.

“We think that the programs and services we provide for people in those situations are not only more appropriate for the care they might need at that moment, but it’s also less costly for taxpayers than sending them to jail,” Kapuscinski said.

Kapuscinski says Common Ground is one of only a handful of agencies of its kind in the country. The agency diverted 431 people from jail in 2015, saving Oakland County more than $5 million.

The savings represent progress, Kapuscinski said, but it’s not more than money is necessary. A lack of material resources, like available beds in hospitals, is a serious problem for mentally ill patients.

“Frequently, it’s been our experience that folks experiencing mental health issues or a mental health crisis are lower in terms of the priority of being served in an emergency department,” Kapuscinski said. “That’s when emergency department boarding becomes an issue.”

Both Koops and Kapuscinski agree it’s not uncommon for inmates to wait weeks for an open spot.

“The number-one issue up here is not training, it’s the availability of bed space for mental health patients,” said Cheboygan County Sheriff Dale Clarmont. “We had a violent offender with mental issues a little while ago who waited three days before we got a bed for him.”

AuSable Valley Community Mental Health, which covers Iosco, Ogemaw and Oscoda counties, averages three to four such individuals a year. Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, which covers six counties in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula, diverted 30 people people from jail.

Clarmont requires that all of his officers receive training every 24 months, but those training sessions are less in-depth than some that are hosted further south.

“We can train them for the very short term,” he said. “But we are not mental health officials. To be frank, we don’t have the medication or facilities.”

Despite the mountain of barriers many sheriffs and community health officials have begun to climb, other public figures involved in the conversation are on the move. In July, 2017 the MiLegislature created the House C.A.R.E.S. task force made up of 14 lawmakers. The group is charged with addressing the growing issue of mental health, and that includes mental health reform in the criminal justice system.

“We’ve identified through the first meetings of the task force, perhaps we can do a better job of communication when someone enters the corrections area,” said Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, a member of the task force. “We have to find the best way to care for these folks.”

For Koops, of the Sheriffs’ Association, the pivot toward more help for the mentally ill is a welcome first step toward solving an old problem.

“From a personal perspective, I’ve been doing this for 42 years,” he said. “And this is the first time in 42 years I’ve actually seen some coalitions come together to see this issue and want to work and make it better.”

More county jails seek to keep inmates from returning

By Jingjing Nie
Capital News Service

LANSING – More Michigan counties are offering programs to keep inmates from returning to jail.

Similar to programs in place at state prisons, the local programs teach skills that give a better chance to jail inmates who serve much shorter sentences than those in prison, said Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Each program is unique and depends on the demographics and the size of the jail, Koops said.

Kent County is in the sixth year of a re-entry program piloted with the National Institute of Corrections, based in Washington, D.C.

It offers classes on avoiding substance abuse, job readiness, high school equivalency completion, job readiness training,social skills and problem solving, said Rob Steele, the inmate program coordinator.

The county re-entry programs are designed to eliminate the short-term repeat offenders.

Jails have frequent flyers, said Capt. Klint Thorne, who oversees facility operations for Kent County. “It is like a revolving door. We will have the same problem with same people again.”

“Frequent flyers” usually started in the criminal justice system at a young age and have been arrested several times, Thorne said. The program targets them and other high-risk people serving sentences to ensure there is enough time to have an impact, he said.

Finding funding for such programs is difficult, Thorne said. The department often partners with local groups.

“It is important to have support from the local community — financial support and time commitment to make this work,” Thorne said. “I think this should be a nationwide program, but I understand there is some difficulty in counties.”

The Allegan County Correctional Facility started a similar program in 2009, said Sgt. John Sexton of the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department.

It allows people to live in one dorm as study buddies, he said. They have two life skills classes a day, five days a week. The coursework includes job skills, budgeting, addiction recovery, parenting and Bible study.

Inmates can also choose weekend workshops, worship services, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and high school equivalency classes.

The program lasts 10 weeks, Sexton said. Eighteen people graduated this year.

“Some students actually asked the judge if they can stay until the class is over,” Sexton said.

Most of the students don’t return to jail, Sexton said. “Some of them got back, but mostly for a smaller crime like violation of parole. They rarely come back for the same level crime or a more severe one.”

And the program has supporters.  

“Judges, probation officers, sheriffs and a lot people from law enforcement are all invited to the graduation,” he said.

The program was so successful that the county set up a women’s program. The first students graduated in September 2016.

It offers the same classes but also offers individual counseling with a therapist.

Forgotten Man Ministries works in similar programs with 33 county jails across the state, said Sarah Farkas, the group’s lead chaplain. It offers religious classes, worship services and individual counseling.

It is possible for people to change their lives, she said.

“When I first started in the program about two and a half years ago, it broke my heart to see how people are looking at the inmate,” she said. “I feel like inmates are always marginalized in a lot of ways.

“I had a loved one who was incarcerated once, so I understand the system and I see society always associated shame with it,” Farkas said. “This is a successful program, it empowers them and empowers their thinking process.”

Inmates in jail ministries are open and willing to share their stories, which is not often seen in everyday life, she said.

Life skills programs are emerging in county jails but not yet widely used, Koops said.

“I’d like to see it not only statewide, it should be a nationwide program,” he said.

Counties could pay informants more, if bill becomes law

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Criminal informants in Michigan could be in for a larger payday if a recently introduced bipartisan bill increases the limit on payouts by 10 times.

The  bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Cochran, D-Mason, and 17 co-sponsors who say a larger reward amount could make witnesses to crimes more willing to come forward. Three co-sponsors are Republican.

Currently the maximum amount that could be given to an informant is $2,000, and it comes from a county’s general fund. This legislation would increase the limit to $20,000. There is no particular reason for the proposed limit, Cochran said, although it seemed to be a figure counties could afford.

As for why there is any limit, Cochran said it was precedent. The law sets the limit at $2,000. However, Cochran said he would be open to an amendment to the bill to get rid of the limit and allow counties to figure it out themselves.

“The idea being the reward would be a little more substantial and possibly someone would come forward with information,” Cochran said.

A former sheriff approached him about increasing the reward for police informants after one of his deputies died while chasing a suspect, Cochran said. No witnesses to the crash came forward, and he thought a greater incentive might have made a difference.

“He felt very strongly in working with the Sheriffs’ Association that they would like to see this raised to $20,000,” Cochran said.

The money would be controlled by county commissioners and be doled out of the county general fund. Each county would select how much to reward witnesses up to that amount, Cochran said.

“This is permissive. It doesn’t require the county to put forth that much reward but it could be up to $20,000,” Cochran said. “Obviously they have to work within their budget constraints, but this allows for local control.”

Cochran said he has the backing of the Ingham County Sheriffs’ Department and the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Typically, the money doled out to criminal informants goes to persons informing on drug dealers or those involved in racketeering, said Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Association.

Rewards for criminal informants typically do work, he said. The money goes to those who divulge information leading to arrests or convictions of people for high- level felonies.

“The problem is, money is a great motivator,” Koops said.

Co-sponsors are: John Chirkun, D-Roseville; Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor; Pam Faris, D-Clio; Tim Sneller, D-Burton; Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale; Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park; Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti; Scott Dianda, D-Calumet; Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon; Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township; David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; Brian Elder, D-Bay City; Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township; Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township; Leslie Love, D-Detroit; Andy Schor, D-Lansing; and Patrick Green, D-Warren.

The bill was referred to the Law and Justice Committee, where Cochran says his Republican colleagues said they felt optimistic about getting the bill pushed through for a hearing.

Police cite fewer speeders, costing counties patrol dollars

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Speeding might be less risky  for drivers in Michigan as police officers are issuing fewer citations annually.

But that drop is costing county sheriffs’ departments thousands of dollars each year for patrolling the state’s back roads and to investigate crashes.

The program, known as secondary road patrol, is a state program of traffic enforcement and crash investigation on non-main roads in the counties, including parts of national and state parks.

It was funded solely by state grant general fund from 1979 to 1992. But now it is self-funded by the surcharge added to fines generated by traffic citations issued by all police. Partial allocation from the general fund continued from 1992 until 2003 when it  was completely eliminated

The average number of  citations issued per deputy has decreased from 582 in 2006 to 444 in 2016, according to a report by Michigan’s Office of Highway Safety Planning.. That resulted in a loss of nearly $3 million to the secondary road patrol program during the past 10 years.

“The two are intertwined,” said Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. “The number of citations equals the amount revenue that’s generated.”

There may be multiple reasons for the decrease in citations, Koops said. But more compassionate officers may be among them.

“Part of it is the whole demeanor of the new police officers,” Koops said. “Number one is more compassionate police officers as far as looking at an individual and their individual circumstances but also their looking at their job differently.”

Koops said more officers are looking at their jobs as more community-based as the people they serve are also the people they live among.

Other reasons for the decrease in citations  have to do with changing road environments. Barriers dividing the freeways have made it more difficult for officers to catch violators.

“If they’re tracking opposite direction traffic, they cannot go through the median to track that vehicle,” Koops said. “If indeed they’re going to track that vehicle, they have to go to the next emergency exchange in the middle of the road which can be several miles away.”

Officers are also more cognizant of being filmed or having to use body cameras which may make them less likely to ticket speeders.

The decrease in funding has led also to a decrease in secondary road patrol deputies funded through the program, taking officers off the road. At the program’s’ inception in 1979, 287 officers were funded by the secondary road patrol funds. Now approximately 126 officers are funded through the program.

That shifted costs to local government. The number of county-funded officers has increased from 1,123 in 1979 to approximately 2,184 in 2016.

“There’s just not enough money to put the deputies on the road,” Koops said. “That money is spent really as far as a funding source to augment the general fund that a county puts into traffic enforcement.”

Eighty-eight percent of the program’s expenditures, or about $11.8 million,  are spent on personnel costs. Each deputy costs approximately $97,258.04 including salary, fringes, vehicles and equipment.

The decrease in funds to the program has no quick solution,  Koops said.

“Truthfully, right now there is no solution,” he said.

Reviving addicts doesn’t cure them, sheriffs say

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Drugs save the lives of some of Michigan’s opioid addicts, but they can’t solve the epidemic sweeping the state and nation.

Most Michigan police are equipped to revive people from an opioid overdose with the drug Narcan. But experts say it hasn’t done anything to help curb the addiction crisis. In fact, it may even falsely reassure addicts that they can continue their risky behavior.

“The dispensing of Narcan has nothing to do with getting anybody better,” said Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth. “It just saves their life. And we’ve had multiple instances where three or four hours later, we’re going back on the same person and administering Narcan again.”

Narcan, a nasal spray that restores breathing to patients overdosed on opioids or heroin, has been key to saving lives. For instance, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office says it has saved  more than 100 people  this year. Ingham County sheriff officials say they’ve administered it more than 150 times this year.

Statewide figures show the number of deaths due to opioid and heroin has risen, from 99 in 1999 to 1,689 deaths in 2016.

Coupled with the increase in deaths is an increase in use and in questions about a limit on how many times Narcan should be used. Middletown, Ohio, spent $2 million responding to overdoses, prompting a member of its city council to propose a cap on how often someone can be given Narcan.

It’s not a popular solution in Michigan.

“We don’t get to say no, never mind, you’ve had 10 or eight chances and are capped for the night and we’re not coming,” Wriggelsworth said.

Some heroin and opioid addicts carry around their own Narcan in case they overdose by accident—or on purpose.

“They’re called Lazarus parties,” Wriggelsworth said, “where they take heroin to the tune of almost dying and then they have Narcan there to bring their buddies back.”

Narcan may save lives, but it’s not a solution to addiction, said Chad Brummett, director of Clinical Research with the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan.

Some experts disagree that proposed legislation that would limit how often someone can be revived with Narcan is the best solution.

“I frankly don’t understand the rationale behind this,” Brummett said. “I think the people proposing that legislation would be better off to focus on things like increasing access to care, addiction treatment, because this is a disease, it’s not a choice.”

Narcan is donated to law enforcement by community health agencies. A kit with two nasal spray units, a face shield used when giving cardiopulmonary respiration, gloves and information on addiction treatment costs $75. The kits are paid for with funds to the agencies provided by block grants from the federal government to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Another drug also used to combat addiction is Vivitrol.

The  Department of Corrections recently began using it to block the desire to take opiates, while giving users little feel of euphoria if they relapse.

“We don’t have extensive knowledge of Vivitrol and its impact on prisons because it’s so new,” Anita Lloyd, the agency’s communications director, wrote in an email. “But if this medication can be used to treat addiction, and can be successfully managed as part of a larger treatment program—without a safety risk to staff or inmates—that’s a good thing.”

An injection of Vivitrol costs $1,000, requires 14 days of being clean ahead of time and is taken once a month.

Meanwhile, experts are predicting a long road ahead before the opiate crisis gets better.

“While prescribing of opioids has started to decrease, our prescribing still so far outpaces what is reasonable,” Brummett said. “Some are predicting it’ll get worse until 2020 or 2021.”

And it’s no longer just prescribed painkillers, he said. Heroin use has risen, while use of newer synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are said to be 10,000 times stronger than morphine, have also increased.

Moves by some of the 10 regional health networks that assist law enforcement by donating Narcan are beginning to think of how further to assist addicts.

“We understood from the very beginning, as part of the training we provide, that officers not only use the medicine to revive, but provide information as well,” said Achilles Malta,a  substance abuse expert with the Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health, “either to family members of the individual or the individual themselves.”

Beyond making education more available, Malta wants overdosed patients to have someone there to help them as soon as they are revived, while also letting family know about other resources in the community.

Michigan police, civil rights groups at odds over military equipment for cops

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — County sheriff departments eager to acquire more aircraft, observation helicopters, camouflage and other military equipment can look forward to more opportunity to acquire them after a federal ban on some surplus was lifted.

“President Trump’s actions enable law enforcement to provide tools and equipment that comes through the federal government at little to no cost that we cannot afford on a local basis,” said Tim Parker, the sheriff of Hillsdale County.

While this reverses the federal government’s position and allows police more access to such equipment, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights says it is a step away from improving police-community relations.

“For the Trump administration to lift the ban really sends the wrong message to law enforcement that they more or less have a free hand to engage militarized tactics in civilian populations,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, a coalition board member.

The new plan announced Aug. 28 rolls back a 2015 Obama administration restriction issued in response to criticism over police use of military-style gear by police during the Ferguson, Missouri, riots more than three years ago.

The new order eases restrictions on giving police equipment like tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers and other military-grade supplies.

Police say the discussion about using military equipment has focused on need rather than the advantages it could bring in special cases, and they say it needs a shift in perspective.

“The whole issue, we think from a law enforcement’s perspective, has been framed incorrectly,” said Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “Yes, it’s surplus equipment the military has that they’re giving to police departments. But anyone can buy this stuff on the market.”

And most of the equipment isn’t used the same way it was by the military.

Police use bayonets as cutting tools in medical kits and for ceremonial purposes, Stevenson said. Grenade launchers are used to disperse unruly crowds with tear gas. And a lot of what is acquired is cold- and warm-weather clothing, at a time, when “police department budgets were decimated,” Stevenson said.

“Most of this stuff won’t ever be used, but it’s an insurance policy,” he said.

In September 2012, the West Bloomfield Police Department used military armored vehicles and robots in a firefight with a barricaded gunman.

“An officer was killed by a barricaded gunman, who was shooting an automatic weapon, striking neighbors homes,” said Mike Bouchard, the Oakland County sheriff.

Armored vehicles and robots assisted in the safe evacuation of neighbors during the firefight.

“The fact of the matter is, these are life-saving equipment. Now we hope we never have to use them, but in our business, that’s not a strategy. Preparation is,” Bouchard said.

In 1997, Congress authorized the Department of Defense to repurpose tax-funded military equipment for police to use at no charge.

“That has already been paid for once. So the question is, ‘do you want to have the taxpayer pay for it twice, or repurpose it and use it in the domestic market?’” said the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Blaine Koops.

Bouchard said Oakland County spent $350,000 on a new armored vehicle after losing its vehicle donated by the military after Obama’s executive order in January 2016,.

Hillsdale County may not be getting armored vehicles anytime soon, but Parker, the sheriff, said it’s good the opportunity is available.

“It is an extreme asset to local communities to have these tools are available,” he said.

In Marquette County,  with fewer than 70,000 people, some police chiefs do not see the need for military equipment.

“We don’t take advantage of that program too much,” Marquette County Sheriff Gregory Zyburt said. “I think the department received some rifles a while back, but not a lot since. There aren’t a lot of situations up here where that kind of equipment is needed.”

The Federal Defense Logistics Agency reports that Michigan has received more than $43 million of military surplus since 2006. That includes equipment as diverse as vehicles that resist mines, helicopters, bandage kits and flashlights.

An online database, run by Caspio, a software company, lists all surplus donated to law enforcement in Michigan by county. Information about the name, value and quantity of the supplies that was provided is available.

Even with lifting the ban, Koops of the Sheriffs’ Association doesn’t anticipate the equipment getting any more use than before.

“As far as the ban and the release of the ban, it’s really not going to change a lot of our procedures and processing. It’s special use, and that’s what it’s for. It’s for situations that the public may not see,” he said.