CNS Budget – March 1, 2018

March 1, 2018 – Week 7

To: CNS Editors

From: Eric Freedman & Sheila Schimpf

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841;

For other matters, contact CNS Director Eric Freedman at (517) 355-4729 or (517) 256-3873;

REMINDER TO EDITORS: Because of the MSU spring break, CNS won’t file stories on Friday, March 9. We resume our regular schedule on Friday, March 16,

Here’s your file:

PRISONCLOSING: What happens to a small community when the state closes a prison that’s been a major employer? With the Corrections Department planning to shut the cell doors at Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon, we visit Coldwater to see what’s happened since Florence Crane Correctional Facility closed in 2011. Not much going on downtown. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, HOLLAND, OCEANA, STURGIS, THREE RIVERS AND ALL POINTS.

w/PRISONSCLOSINGPHOTO1: The closing of a local prison has hit downtown Coldwater hard. Credit: Gloria Nzeka

w/PRISONCLOSINGPHOTO2: Retailers get hit when an area prison closes. Credit: Gloria Nzeka

TRAFFICSTOP: New legislation is intended to smooth interactions between law enforcement officers and drivers during traffic stops. Amid concerns over racial profiling, it comes after a State Police analysis shows that the race of drivers stopped in 2017 was in the same proportion as they are in the state’s population. We talk to the Crawford County undersheriff, Howell police chief, Lansing ACLU and the Office of Highway Safety Planning. Sponsors include lawmakers from Battle Creek, Hart, Portage and Lowell. By Agnes Bao. CRAWFORD COUNTY, OCEANA, IONIA, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

w/TRAFFICSTOPTABLE: The races of drivers stopped by State Police in 2017 in Michigan. Source: State Police  

TEACHEREDUCATION: Lawmakers have been struggling for years to improve teacher education. A House committee is mulling over legislation that would, among other things, create a Master Teacher Program to mentor new teachers and require colleges and universities to provide a 2-year “warranty” that provides additional classes for their graduates who don’t perform well on teaching assessments. We hear from Holland and Saginaw representatives and a Spring Arbor teacher who testified before the committee. By Casey Hull. FOR HOLLAND AND ALL POINTS.

AIREMISSIONS: A federal court ruling means many livestock farms will no longer be exempt from reporting air emissions from their animals and manure. An Ottawa County beef farmer says the change means more paperwork that could drive up the price of food. The Farm Bureau says the reporting wouldn’t provide any benefits. The Michigan Environmental Council says it’s important to monitor emissions for air quality. For news and agriculture pages. By Crystal Chen.


TRAINTRESPASSING: Dramatic crashes between cars and trains draw public attention but take fewer lives than train-”trespasser”incidents, a new federal study shows. Last year 13 died and six were injured in Michigan. Many of the trespassers walked along the tracks wearing earbuds and don’t detect the danger. We talk to MDOT and Michigan Operation Lifesaver. By Riley Murdock. FOR STURGIS, THREE RIVERS AND ALL POINTS.


POLICERECRUITMENT: Police departments around the state are having problems recruiting officers. Reasons include a diminution of benefits, including retirement benefits, the cost of training and public attitudes toward law enforcement officers. We hear from police officials in Cadillac and Howell and from the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. By Riley Murdock. FOR CADILLAC & ALL POINTS.

ROADFUNDING: The Legislature has been moving on the $175 million in road maintenance funding requested by the governor. Much of the money would go to county and municipal roads. Cadillac could use some of it to upgrade major roads. Meanwhile, a construction industry trade group that represents road and bridge contractors says Isabella County wants to improperly use state money for a new headquarters rather than for road projects. By Maxwell Evans. FOR CADILLAC, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.

TRACKSMAGAZINE: “Tracks,” the Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ magazine for children, is marking its 40th anniversary this year. By Jacqueline Kelly. FOR ALL POINTS.

w/TRACKSMAGAZINECOVER: Credit: Michigan United Conservation Clubs

RIVERTRAILS: The National Park Service is considering requests to designate national river trails for the recently reviled Flint River and the Shiawassee River. One goal is to attract more visitors to the rivers and their communities. By Lizzy LaFavre. FOR ALL POINTS.

w/RIVERTRAILSPHOTO: Kayaking on the Shiawassee River.. Credit: Oakland County


Push underway to designate national water trails for Flint, Shiawassee Rivers


LANSING — Three years after the Flint River starred in an international horror story where cost-cutting measures led to toxic drinking water, state lawmakers are backing an effort to give it national recognition as a water trail.

The decision is up to the National Park Service.

National Park Service designation of a national water trail means the 73-mile river will likely draw more visitors and businesses, said Rebecca Fedewa, the executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition.

Meanwhile, the Shiawassee River Water Trail Coalition has submitted a similar application for designation for that 88-mile waterway between Chesaning and Holly.

The Flint River is a principal tributary of the Shiawassee, which flows into the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.

The state House has passed a resolution supporting designation for both rivers, and a resolution is pending in the Senate Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee. The lead sponsors are Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, and Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso.

Resolutions are expressions of legislative sentiment but have no legal effect.

The Flint River “is home to bald eagles, ospreys, frogs, turtles, muskrats and a wide variety of fish. Used as a main method of transportation for Native Americans and early European settlers and later supporting the city of Flint as a major hub for fur-trading, lumber milling, and agriculture, the river has a rich cultural history,” the legislative resolution says.

The Huron River is a model for the Flint River group because it’s seen more visitors since its federal designation as a water trail in 2015, said Elizabeth Riggs, the deputy director of the Huron River Watershed Council.

“We are also seeing that they are coming from a wider variety of demographics,” she said. “Designation makes the route more of a destination.”

More people traveling to an area means more economic activity for local businesses, Riggs said.

Huron River visitors bring in $53.5 million each year, according to the Economic Impact of the Huron River.

“A national water trail designation can be used to promote recreation and tourism, enhancing economic benefits for communities. The program also opens opportunities to access technical assistance and funding for planning and implementing water trail projects and improving existing river water trails,” the resolutions say.

Water trails are like other park trails with multiple access points, mile markers and directions, but along a river, said Tom Cook, who heads Friends of the Shiawassee River.
He said Shiawassee River enthusiasts applied for national water trail status in hopes that it will create a sense of pride about that river, Cook said.

“The designation was a tool to bring our community together,” he said. “We hope that it brings the appropriate recognition of the work we have done and will continue do.”

The application process has brought together three service groups and 11 governmental organizations with responsibilities ranging from keeping the Shiawassee River clean to mapping out trail activities, Cook said.

The designations are in the final stages of review by the National Park Service, said Barbara Nelson-Jameson, who is the Michigan programs coordinator for the federal agency.

Fedewa said, “Getting the approval from the (state) House was definitely a surprise. To see them taking that on was very special and really reaffirms everything that we have been working on.”

Lizzy LaFavre writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Making Tracks for four decades

Capital News Service

LANSING — If you grew up in Michigan, might remember reading the wildlife magazine Tracks in your elementary school classroom.

Supported and written by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), the magazine has taught children in and outside the classroom about local wildlife and ecosystems for 40 years.

That’s long enough for editors to see the lifelong impact their work has on its readers, said Tyler Butler, the Michigan Out-of-Doors Youth Camp director, as well as half of the Tracks creative team.

“It’s a wild experience coming across parents who remember reading the publication when they were a child,” Butler said. “Often, these parents have grown into outdoor enthusiasts and natural resource conscious adults that get a reminder of their childhood when they hold one of our publications in their hands.”

Butler and Shaun McKeon, the group’s educational coordinator, create content that meets Michigan’s science education standards. Occasionally they introduce young readers to native animals they may not even know exist.

“We are happy to introduce new and unfamiliar species to our readers and even happier when our readers declare that they now have a new favorite animal,” Butler said.

Their goal is to educate children about natural resources and the Great Lakes region’s wildlife. Each issue contains a quiz and classroom activity to bring the reading to life.

“As time has gone on and kids have gotten used to different types of media, we have had to adjust the magazine,” McKeon said.

Over the years, the magazine’s style has changed to captivate young minds by including more graphics and changing from a newspaper format to a storytelling format. As a print publication, Tracks can be used to improve reading comprehension and engage kids in school districts that might not be completely digital.

The outdoor group also offers a six-day, five-night summer camp to introduce a love for the outdoors to Michigan kids.

Since 1946, MUCC has helped more than 50,000 kids learn about nature and conservation. They camp, fish, canoe, swim, hike and learn about forestry, wildlife identification and archery. Campers can also earn hunter education certificates and learn conservation practices.

The magazine can be found in elementary classrooms all over the United States and is available for an individual subscription.

Jacqueline Kelly writes for Great Lakes Echo.

More road money a start but not enough

Capital News Service

LANSING — Officials statewide are touting plans to increase state road funding as badly needed — although insufficient — help.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget recommendation for 2019 suggested a $175 million increase for road maintenance, and lawmakers are moving quickly in hopes of getting the money in place for the 2018 construction season.

State and county road maintenance budgets would each get a 39 percent share of the new state money with the remaining 22 percent allocated for municipalities. About $15 million of the state’s share would be used for technology updates, like hydrogen fueling stations.

This could bring relief to local governments that have seen their road conditions deteriorate through a winter of rapid weather shifts.

Cadillac has two state highways and one U.S. highway. M-115 runs through the west side of the city. M-55 used to be signed as Sunnyside Drive, a main road through the downtown area.

While M-55 has since been rerouted to follow U.S. Route 131, which runs along Cadillac’s eastern edge, Sunnyside Drive is still a state road, according to Ken Payne, the operations manager of the city’s Department of Public Works.

The conditions of these roads are “fair to bad,” with the business loop of U.S. 131 that runs through the heart of Cadillac the exception, Payne said. He said the business loop, which serves as the city’s main street, underwent major repairs as recently as 2009 and is in good shape.

Wexford County maintains M-115, while Cadillac is under a maintenance agreement with the state to take care of Sunnyside Drive and the U.S. 131 business loop.

Poor maintenance of state roads can have a negative economic and social impact on the community, Payne said.

“I don’t think anyone wants to build on a bad road,” Payne said, adding that it would deter  economic development. “Of course it also goes onto social media and Facebook — if there’s a bad spot, residents are quick to tell us.”

While local governments await a potential influx of new money, roads continue to crumble. Some officials say they worry that some governments are misusing the funding that’s already available.

An open letter from the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association claims the Isabella County Road Commission’s proposal to build a new headquarters using road funding from a $1.2 billion road-funding package passed in 2015 goes against the intent of that law.

The trade association represents construction companies, including those that do road and bridge products. The letter was posted on its website.

“Anyone can go on the roads and find out that we are not investing enough money in our roads and bridges,” said association Vice President of Government Affairs Lance Binoniemi. “If you ask those lawmakers who passed that bill back in 2015, every intention that they had was to fix our roads and bridges, not to build new buildings.

“I don’t want to suggest that Isabella County doesn’t need a new building — they very well could use a new building — I just want to make sure that we’re all being very transparent with the way we’re using our money,” he said.

The commission’s current headquarters have “dangerous working conditions,” according to Isabella County Road Commission manager Tony Casali.

He listed structural damage, a lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and lead and asbestos contamination among the problems.

Low interest rates on federal funding through the federal Rural Development program — which may rise soon — make this the best opportunity the county may have to move out of its 70-year-old building, Casali said.

“They’re telling us now if that interest rate goes up a half-percent and we wait any longer, we could potentially be paying another $750,000 in interest,” Casali said. “Is our timing right? I don’t know if the timing is ever right when you do a project like this, but over 70 years, I think it’s probably time.”

The commission estimates the project will cost about $10 million, although that was a “best guesstimate” and was likely to shrink, Casali said.

While the additional $175 million in state funds would be a boost for the condition of the roads, it is not a complete solution and represents less than 15 percent of the Department of Transportation’s total spending in 2016.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted down a proposal to add another $275 million to the governor’s request.

Casali said that of the $175 million, he expects Isabella County to receive around $530,000 for the 2018 construction season.

“Based on this year, that makes up about 3 percent of my total expenditures,” Casali said when asked whether that was a significant amount. “I think I’ll let you answer that question.”

Few applicants seeking police careers, leaders say

Capital News Service

LANSING — Police departments across Michigan and throughout the country are experiencing a shortage of qualified applicants, police leaders say.

Howell Police Chief George Basar said years ago he would have 120 applicants for one available position and had to conduct a qualifying test to reduce the number of potential hires.

Now, however, Basar has advertised two positions for four months and received only nine applications.

“That is a common story across the state and across the nation — we just can’t bring people into the profession,” said Basar, a past president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police,

Cadillac police Capt. Eric Eller said more than 100 applicants took the police entrance exam when he did 23 years ago. The department’s last exam saw only 20 to 25.

“Our numbers of applications have dropped considerably in the past few years,” Eller said.

One potential cause is a lack of incentives for public-sector employment, Basar said. For example, benefits have been stripped or modified as cost-saving measures, often to the detriment of longtime employees.

Robert Stevenson, executive director of the association, said the loss of benefits has caused a brain drain at the top of police organizations.

Some experienced officers, himself included, are forced to either retire or lose benefits they spent decades working towards, he said. To preserve his benefits, Stevenson retired after 37 years with the Livonia Police Department

“I actually left my department sooner than I probably would have, just strictly because I’d worked my whole career for my benefits and they were taking my benefits away,” Stevenson said.

Public pressure could be another disincentive to join the ranks, Basar said.

Some police officers doing “incredibly stupid things” that cause the entire profession to be painted negatively doesn’t help, he said. Nor does the fear that officers will go to prison for making mistakes under increased scrutiny.

Another barrier is the cost of mandatory training. Tuition at a police academy costs $6,000-$8,000 at a community college, plus numerous fees, Basar said.

Post-recession, many municipal departments cannot afford to put recruits through academies, meaning applicants must pay the full cost of their training, Stevenson said.

That also contributes to a lack of diversity in departments, as the cost discourages many financially disadvantaged applicants, including many minorities, from pursuing law enforcement careers, Basar said.

A lot of police hiring is generational, Stevenson said. Many officers come from families where parents and grandparents were also officers. With changes to the profession, many officers now discourage their families from following in their footsteps.

“Now what you’re hearing is police officers are telling their children, ‘Don’t be a police officer, this is not the job you want to have,'” Stevenson said.

A lack of qualified applicants hurts the profession, not only in Michigan, but throughout the United States, Stevenson said, noting that departments in other states face the same problems.

Cadillac’s Eller agreed the problem is widespread.

“Other departments I’ve talked to, they’re having a hard time getting applicants,” Eller said. “I know that there are fewer people looking into law enforcement — there’s actually quite a few jobs out there.”

Applications have been down since the recession began in 2008-09, although it seems most departments are now hiring, Eller said.

The shortage hasn’t impacted the Cadillac Police Department’’s work, Eller said, as it still receives quality applications. He said the department hasn’t had problems retaining officers, with most leaving at retirement age if at all.

“We’ve been lucky enough that we’ve been able to fill all the positions that have been open,” Eller said. “Then again, we’re a smaller department, so we kind of have to fill those spots.”

Train fact: more pedestrians hit outside of from crossings

Capital News Service

LANSING — The number of pedestrian deaths involving railroads is rising.

Trains killed or injured 19 trespassers in Michigan last year, though the number of vehicle-train accidents fell.

Deaths on segments of a railway other than a designated crossing–known as “trespassing”–accounted for 63 percent of rail-related fatalities in the United States between 2005 and 2016, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. More than twice as many deaths came from trespassing than from incidents at crossings.

Neither the cumulative death toll nor individual incidents from trespassing draw the level of public attention that other train-related deaths do, such as the December 2017 derailment of an Amtrak train that killed three and injured dozens south of Tacoma, Washington.

Or a 2009 accident when an Amtrak train hit a car and killed its five passengers in Canton Township. Or a March 2017 crash in Breedsville, Van Buren County, that killed the driver and injured her son when the car didn’t yield to an oncoming freight train.

Sam Crowl, the state coordinator for Michigan Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the entirety of a railroad is private property, and no railroad will allow pedestrians because of the safety risks involved.

“The reason we call them trespassers is because they’re not allowed on railroad property,” Crowl said. “They may be a pedestrian at the designated crossing, but when they walk off, they’re trespassing.”

Of the 19 trespassers hit by trains in Michigan in 2017, 13 died, Crowl said. Some survivors lost arms and legs.

Those numbers exclude incidents considered suicides — there were five last year, he said.

Patterns emerged among the dead.

“Eight of the 13 had earbuds on,” Crowl said.

The earbud-wearers had their backs to the trains when they were hit, Crowl said, and he attributed the rising number of incidents to technology that impedes hearing and pedestrians simply not paying attention.

“You can see that they did not intend to get hit by their walk,” Crowl said, referring to cameras now fixed to most trains. “If they were standing still they might feel the vibration of the train coming.”

Operation Lifesaver, which operates a branch in every state, works to reduce the number of rail-related fatalities through presentations and safety education.

The Michigan Department of Transportation discourages anyone from walking on a railroad anywhere other than at a designated crossing, media representative Michael Frezell said.

He said taking photographs on railroad tracks is relatively popular, but unsafe.

“We strongly discourage anyone from taking pictures, or walking along railroad tracks, or playing along the tracks,” Frezell said. “We don’t want to see any fatality.”

Frezell said he would like to see an initiative similar to Toward Zero Deaths — a national strategy to eliminate traffic deaths adopted by MDOT and the Michigan State Police — regarding railroad accidents.

In 1970, there were 40 rail-related deaths in Michigan involving vehicles. In last few years, Michigan has averaged nine to 10 a year, Crowl said.

“We believe that what we do has helped to reduce that number downward,” Crowl said.

Collisions involving trains and vehicles have decreased 83 percent from 1972 to 2016, a reduction of roughly 10,000 incidents per year, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics cited by Operation Lifesaver. But the number of trespassing deaths has grown, Crowl said.

“All of the incidents can be avoided simply by following the rules that already exist. However, we know people are in a hurry and don’t always follow the rules that exist,” Crowl said.

MI Operation Lifesaver’s advocacy involves going into as many schools and driver training classes as it can to share information. The group conducts free presentations.

Victims typically involved in trespassing-related incidents are between 18 and 38, and that age group is difficult to speak to in a traditional setting, Crowl said. The group is using social media to publicize hazards, in addition to billboards and radio ads.


Farmers concerned about air emission reporting requirement

Capital News Service

LANSING – Farmers in the state may soon be required to report air emissions from their livestock, a federal requirement that had exempted them in the past.

“It’s just a requirement for reporting for purposes of tracking,” said Laura Campbell, the manager of the Agricultural Ecology Department at the Michigan Farm Bureau. “This is a requirement with no useful purpose.”

The change is due to a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling  in Washington, D.C.

Previously, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempted farms from reporting hazardous substance air releases caused by animal waste. Only large concentrated animal feeding operations were subject to reporting under a related law.

Because the court ruling struck down the exemption, farms, ranches, livestock operations and animal operations, will be required to report releases of hazardous substances that exceed threshold limits.

According to the EPA, agriculture contributes 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Among them, methane from normal digestive processes of livestock represents almost one-third of the emissions, and manure management accounts for about 15 percent.

No one knows how many farms will fall under the requirement, Campbell said.

“The requirement depends on how much ammonia or hydrogen sulfide the manure on a farm might emit,” she said. “Confinement, pasture, all sizes of operations will have to review their farms to try to figure out whether they would estimate that their emissions meet the threshold.”

The threshold for ammonia or hydrogen sulfide from a farm is 100 lbs within a 24-hour period, according to EPA.

However, no reliable way exists to measure air emissions from any type of farm, “whether a livestock barn, manure storage structure, feedlot, pasture or any other type of (animal) housing,” Campbell said.

The EPA has recommended a few calculators that farmers can use to estimate their emissions, but she said estimates are likely to be questioned because there is no way to scientifically verify them.

According to Campbell, the Farm Bureau has been working with Michigan State University Extension, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and other partners to get out information on how farms can comply.

Gary Voogt, the owner of Voogt Farms, a beef cattle farm in Marne, Ottawa County, said it will be a paperwork burden if farms have to report air emissions.

He said when farmers have to do “foolish things” that have nothing to do with raising livestock, “it passes onto the consumer, and the cost of food goes up and poor people can’t afford to eat.”

Campbell said there would be a “significant financial penalty if farmers don’t comply” with the requirement.

Beyond that, reporting would present a risk to their privacy, she said.

“Farm information submitted under most regulatory programs has some level of protection from release to the public,” Campbell said. But, under the federal Superfund law, “that information can’t be held private because the entire reason for the act is to provide that information to the public and emergency managers for response.

“Therefore, farm and farming family information would become public. There are many activist groups who want information about livestock farms specifically because they want to harass, demonize or find other ways to eliminate livestock farms,” she said.

Tom Zimnicki, the agriculture policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, said it’s essential to be able to track air emissions from all major sources that contribute to pollution, whether that be agriculture, transportation or other industry.

“Our hope is that both state and federal policy recognizes the impact these livestock operations, especially the large ones, have on air quality and address air pollution issues accordingly,” he said.

“I do not think the new air emission reporting requirements will result in any new standards to limit emissions from agriculture,” Zimnicki said. “To my knowledge it is only a reporting requirement.”

A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate would exempt farms from reporting air emissions. Neither of Michigan’s senators, Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, or Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, are co-sponsors.

Campbell said the Farm Bureau supports the proposal which is pending in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The organization says the new requirements won’t result in any benefits.

“This act has nothing to do with increasing protection of the environment,” Campbell said. “The best approach for helping farms do the best they can do for protecting air quality will come from university and Extension research under the kind of conditions that can be measured.”

That, in turn,  will allow them to make recommendations to use for state standards, she said.

According to the EPA, farms won’t be required to submit reports until the appeals court issues its order eliminating the exemptions on May 1.

New teaching degrees would come with a warranty, if bills pass

Capital News Service

LANSING — The House Education Reform Committee is considering revamping teacher education standards in Michigan.

The bipartisan legislative package is three years in the making, according to Rep. Daniela Garcia, R-Holland. The package was introduced in the House at the end of February.

“New teachers don’t feel they have been prepared to teach in classrooms,” said Garcia, who is a member of the committee.

“We need to have a seamless education system,” Garcia said. “Our institutions need to prepare our teachers, and our teachers need to feel prepared so our students feel prepared.”

Teacher preparation institutions would need to meet the new requirements by June 2019 if the proposal becomes law.

The proposed policy would require colleges and universities to educate their student teaching candidates about social and emotional learning practices and teacher evaluation tools.

Institutions would also require at least 90 hours of classroom observation from their student teachers.

Some student experiences would be in classrooms that have pupils with disabilities, who are English language learners or in schools with high levels of poverty. Experienced teachers in the continuing education program would also be required to observe classrooms with students in different situations.

The bills would require that teacher education institutions provide a 2-year “warranty” to its graduates. The warranty would pay for any additional education they need if they received  unsatisfactory teaching assessments.

“Teachers will have the opportunity to participate in a warranty education program,” Garcia said. “The intent is that teacher education institutions won’t increase tuition to cover these fees.”

The package also would encourage mentoring of new teachers through a new Master Teacher Corps that the Department of Education would create.

“Master teachers would engage with policymakers, mentor new teachers and provide professional development across Michigan,” said committee Chair Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw.

Master teachers would receive $5,000-$10,000 a year for participating in the program, in addition to their regular classroom teaching salary.

Mentors would receive $1,000 for each student teacher they work with.

Suzanne Gibbs, a fourth-grade teacher from Spring Arbor, said,  “I’ve been teaching nearly 20 years. It’s a wonderful opportunity to allow (student teachers) in my classroom.”

Gibbs testified at a committee hearing that education programs aren’t meeting the needs of student teachers.

“Having student teachers in the classroom requires a lot of time because you’re filling in a lot of gaps that our universities just don’t give to our candidates,” Gibbs said.  “They’re young, they don’t have the experience of being in front of 28 students who have completely different needs.”

The committee is still reviewing the legislation.

Bills aim to reduce cop-driver tensions during traffic stops

Capital News Service

LANSING – A State Police review of traffic stops in 2017 found that the race of the drivers involved closely corresponded to their proportion in Michigan’s population.

“Releasing data, especially racial demographic data, is a good start in transparency as it can help identify troubling trends of bias,” said Derrell Slaughter, the vice chair of the Lansing Area American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The analysis comes in the wake of concerns that law enforcement officers may be making traffic stops based on the drivers’ race, a practice known as racial profiling.

Slaughter, who chaired the Racial Justice Committee at the Lansing Area ACLU, said the validity of racial profiling claims is hard to judge because everybody has his or her own experience and feelings that should be taken seriously.

Social media has become a tool for people highlighting issues of bias, but it doesn’t indicate that the trend of bias is going up, Slaughter said. “In the Lansing region, law enforcement (agencies) are taking racial bias seriously.”

To break down the barrier between law enforcement officers and citizens, Slaughter said increasing dialogue, free discussion and mutual respect on both sides are the key.

The main reasons police pull drivers over include speeding, driving outside the lines on the road and failing to stop at a stop sign or traffic light, said Kendall Wingrove, the communication chief of the state Office of Highway Safety Planning.

Two recently introduced Senate bills are intended to enhance mutual respect between law enforcement officers and drivers during traffic stops.

Co-sponsor Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, who was a police officer for 30 years, said, “I personally think there is less trust and respect for the police officers nowadays as compared to when I started back in 1977.”

The bills would help drivers know what to expect during traffic stops and alleviate some of the tension between them and law enforcement officers, Nofs said.

One bill would require driver education classes to teach about the “appropriate etiquette”’ for interaction with law enforcement officers in the event of a traffic stop. The other would develop a training program for officers to improve their performance during traffic stops.

“Sometimes younger officers have a more direct manner of asking for information, and this can be received as disrespectful,” said Shawn Kraycs, the Crawford County undersheriff.

“However, in Northern Michigan, most law enforcement interactions are professional and respectful when it comes to the majority of traffic stops,” Kraycs said. “They enforce the law evenly on a daily basis.

“I personally have stopped cars for speeding and the first thing I was told from the driver is ‘you stopped me because I’m black.’ No, I stopped him because he was speeding,” he said.

However, Kraycs said the majority of citizens are respectful and cooperative because they know why they’re being stopped and know what’s expected of them.

Law enforcement officers should treat drivers “with respect and dignity that they deserve based on drivers’ response and how they are treated in return,” said George Basar, the chief of the Howell Police Department.

Basar, a past president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said his department pays attention to educating the African-American community on what to expect and how to respond in traffic stops.

The lead sponsors of the legislation are Sens. Vincent Gregory, D-Lathrup Village, and Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy. Among the co-sponsors are Sens. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage; Goeff Hansen, R-Hart; and Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

The bills are awaiting action in the Senate Transportation Committee.

When prisons close, communities may suffer

Capital News Service

COLDWATER —  It was lunchtime on a weekday but downtown Coldwater looked deserted.

In a nearly empty Subway on Marshall Street, only two customers grabbed a meal to-go. The restaurant is a mile from the Lakeland Correctional facility where the Florence Crane prison closed in 2011.

Just how much is a community affected economically when a prison closes?

That’s the question that arises as the state prepares to close West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon County. The facility has 1,245 prisoners and 174 employees, and the closing is expected to save $18.8 million in the 2019 budget.

Because Muskegon is in a metropolitan area with two other prisons nearby, “employees can easily be consolidated,” said Chris Gautz, a public information officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

“It takes time to evaluate the economic impact of a prison closing on a city. It depends on the facility itself, the school system and also where the staff lived,”  he said.

Businesses like gas stations and restaurants “may feel the impact but since there are two other prisons in the area, the city won’t lose on income tax.”

The U.S. represents just 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it holds 25 percent of its inmates. More than 2.2 million people are locked up in state, local and other detention facilities across the United States.

Yet, in some states like Michigan, the prison population has been declining in recent years. During his State of State address early this year, Gov. Rick Snyder said the prison population was below 40,000 in 2017 for the first time in more than 20 years.

Michigan began seeing a decline in inmates in 2003, and Corrections has closed and consolidated 26 facilities since 2005, saving what it said was nearly $400 million.

The Department of Corrections estimates that prison population will continue to decline, but at a slower pace than the last two years. This year, the number of prisoners is projected to fall by 584 but the department says it has no plans to close another facility besides West Shoreline.

Policymakers are advocating for changes in the criminal justice system that will treat incarceration as the last resort for law-breakers. But what happens to prison properties after they close – as well as to the community  that depended on them — has been missing from those discussions.

The most recent closure was the Pugsley Correctional Facility in Traverse City, which shut its cell doors in 2016. “There were 230 employees and only 44 were laid off. Half of those 44 were offered jobs within the department but declined,” Gautz said.

Not all closed Michigan prisons are in metropolitan areas. Among the relatively recent closures in small communities were Florence Crane in Coldwater, Branch County, and the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility in Standish, Arenac County – which was the city’s largest employer.

When traveling through some of Coldwater’s main roads like Marshall and West Chicago streets, I was struck by the number of closed or abandoned businesses — even bookstores closed shop.

Cayden Sparks, the executive director of the Coldwater Area Chamber of Commerce, said the aftermath of two prisons closing – Florence Crane and Camp Branch — has been bad for the most part.

“Depending on where prison staff lived, some have had to relocate with their spouse and kids,” Sparks said. “That meant jobs leaving the city, less children in schools and therefore, less tax income in the community.”

Sparks said that working in a prison requires specialized skills, and when one closes, many staffers have difficulty finding jobs in other fields.

“In a city like Coldwater, there aren’t many jobs for someone trained as a prison guard,” Sparks said.

Prisons become a part of a community in various ways. In the case of Coldwater, Sparks said prison facilities were places where educational programs and trade schools for prisoners made community members participants in reshaping their society.

Gautz, from Corrections, said state-owned former prisons can be sold or rented to businesses, in which case it will still benefit the county through tax revenue.

“Muskegon is in an industrial park. We haven’t decided what we will do with it because right now the focus is on finding jobs for officials. But the county will be interested in using the facility,” Gautz said.

Sparks, from the Coldwater Chamber, said the challenge for small communities is that no businesses are big enough to occupy an entire prison facility. “It’s impossible for small businesses to use this space —  it’s either all or nothing.”

Parts of the closed prison facilities in Coldwater sit empty. Florence Crane is being used for disability services, Sparks said.

“The infrastructure needs to be kept together, and it’s a lot of money to maintain the facilities,” he said.

Sparks says to remedy the economic problems of Coldwater and other small communities, the downtown area needs to be developed. For example, creating a centralized business space with food and micro-brewery businesses could generate more employment opportunities.