By ELIZABETH DANEFF
Capital News Service
LANSING — State Police officers in Southwest Michigan are growing anxious over the possibility of local post closings.
According to the Lansing State Journal, an unreleased report put together by the MSP Coordinating Council shows that several of the state’s 64 posts could be consolidated. The report also indicates that as many as 207 of 276 State Police commander positions could be eliminated across Michigan.
Although the agency has not finalized the council’s proposal, nervousness is growing in the MSP 5th District. Area posts are located in Battle Creek, Hastings, South Haven, Paw Paw, White Pigeon, Niles, Coldwater and Bridgman.
Commissioned last August by former MSP Director Col. Mike Robinson, the council’s goal was to find new and better ways to do business, council representative Kurt Weiss said.
Col. Stephen Madden joined the council when he took over as department director on March 4. Robinson left to take a job with the new Federal Transportation Security Administration.
The recently submitted Business Process Improvement Project addresses efficiency issues within the district, including the possibility of post consolidation and the elimination of commander positions.
“At this point we don’t have any definite decisions made,” Weiss said. “It would be premature to assume which posts could close, because if any were to be consolidated, it would be strictly on an as-needed basis.”
Weiss said the project is intended to center the agency’s processes, while still making sure the agency is client-based. “Just because a post is eliminated, it doesn’t mean we will not have officers serving the area. It simply means there will no longer be a building there.”
The White Pigeon Post Commander, 1st Lt. Michael Risko, said it’s possible his post could be eliminated because of high maintenance costs. Twenty-four officers work out of the post.
“There’s been some anxiety here over this issue because of the way it was handled by the BPI project team,” Risko said. “The possibility of our post being consolidated would mean people’s lives would be disrupted. But it would take a lot of time to close this post.”
Rep. Cameron Brown, R-White Pigeon, said it would be a mistake to close any posts in Michigan.
“This has come as a surprise and a concern to many of us, and we are asking a lot of questions. At this time of increased security risk, I believe it would be a mistake for the department to close posts. I take the department at its word that there is not intent to close posts.”
According to Risko, many constituents from the area would cry out if the White Pigeon post is eliminated.
Niles Post Commander Willie Mays said no one really knows what’s going to happen. “Anytime you talk about change, people get uncomfortable. But we have no idea what will happen. All we can do is speculate.”
Weiss confirmed rumors that some troopers who meet certain criteria would be able to work out of their homes.
Mays said he could see younger troopers wanting to do that. He said he wouldn’t consider it an option for himself because he worries about the safety of his family.
“My police car could be parked in my driveway when I’m not home. If someone had an emergency and they saw my car, they would probably knock on our door. How would my wife deal with that?”
Although a release date for the proposal has not been announced, Weiss said he expects an official announcement to be made within two to three weeks.
Risko said he hopes the agency is being honest with its officers about the seemingly hush-hush plans to consolidate. “We’re supposed to represent the best of society and that means being honest to each other and to the public.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ELIZABETH DANEFF