Police layoffs loom amid budget cuts

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Capital News Service
LANSING – More local police officers and sheriff deputies are losing jobs due to budget cuts, which puts public safety in jeopardy, law enforcement experts say.
The Oakland County Sheriff’s office has lost $12 million of its budget in the past two years and will lose another $1.3 million in 2010-11, Undersheriff Michael McCabe said. That means the department will lay off more deputies.
The Macomb County Sheriff’s Department has had an $8 million cut since 2007.
Although there is no plan to cut staff, Sheriff Mark Hackel said, the department will not fill vacancies.
Local police chiefs and sheriffs blame the budget cuts on declining tax revenues during the recession.
Hackel said the economic downturn has hampered people’s ability to pay taxes, so the counties, cities and townships get less revenue for public services.
Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Okemos-based Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said Southeast Michigan suffers the most in the state from the bad economy.
The automobile industry in the area is much less vibrant, Hendrickson said. As a result, housing value drops and local property tax revenue decreases.
“Police operating budgets will continue to decrease in the next few years,” he predicted.
Many municipal agencies are eliminating officer positions.
Oakland’s McCabe said his organization lost more than 125 out of about 1,200 positions in the past two and half years and will cut more next year.
“Many local departments are planning to do the same thing,” McCabe said.
For example, the Waterford Police Department recently laid off 10 patrol officers, 12 detention workers and one crime scene investigator and will have more layoffs, Chief Daniel McCaw said.
Pontiac may undergo a worse scenario. The city will lay off 29 police officers in November, which will bring the number of police employees down to 62 from 175 in 2004, McCabe said.
A criminal justice professor at Wayne State University, Eric Lambert, said he worries that fewer police officers may lead to more crimes.
Lambert said police help prevent crimes, so laying off officers may mean losing that preventive ability.
Under the “broken-window” theory, he said, if police don’t respond to small crimes, violators may commit more serious crimes.
For example, police officers used to investigate burglary cases at the scene, but now victims may be asked to come to the department headquarters because of the insufficient staff, he said.
That approach is not likely to solve the crime but could escalate criminal activity, Lambert said.
He said fewer police officers would also slow the response time for nonviolent crimes, the most typical kind in Wayne County.
McCabe said, “You have fewer police officers out on the street. They are not able to get to the calls as quickly as they used to be.
“That places the local residents in jeopardy,” he said.
Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said layoffs also could reduce police officers assigned to schools, which will compromise student safety.
Students will miss the chance for safety education and the police will lose a valuable link with the young generation, Jungel said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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