By Brian Bobal
Mason Times staff writer
Arrests for driving under the influence are down from 41 to 17 in 2004 and 2013 respectively. Arrests involving drug offenses are down to four in 2013 compared to 30 in 2004. Finally, in 2013, arrests for retail fraud totalled 12. This is down 18 counts from 2004 when total arrests were 30.
Chief John Stressman attributes this to a few things.
“One is we have a retention issue and we’ve been short staffed. I don’t think we’ve been at full strength for the last two years,” said Stressman, who has been chief since 2004. “There is a lot of movement between police departments. Officers go from one place to the other looking for something better, or a better fit for them.”
Mayor Leon Clark attested to the difficulty of hiring new officers.
“As we hire and get younger, it’s impossible to determine where exactly they want their career to go,” he explained. “Some of them will look at the small time and think there isn’t enough excitement and not enough opportunity, so they move on. Others come in and buy right into what is going on in the community.”
Considering the size of Mason, currently 8,252 according to the city’s website, losing any amount of officers is a big deal in Stressman’s eyes.
“We have an authorized strength of 13 but allocated 12 and that’s one entire day-shift position we don’t have. We also had a couple that didn’t pass their field-training phase,” said Stressman. “That decreases your numbers, and it impacts us more than it does a larger organization.”
The Field Training Program lasts for a minimum of 14 weeks. During that time, potential officers are monitored, evaluated, mentored and taught by training officers. Officers are not allowed to work on the road without completing this program.
“The other thing (the numbers) tell me is that the officers are aggressive and proactive in their patrol efforts. Being visible is a great crime deterrent,” he said. “The more people that see them out there, the less inclined someone is going to be up to mischief. We are very good at our jobs and people know that.”
Stressman also said that the number of officers on the street varies.
“At a given time we have at least one, sometimes up to three or four depending if shifts overlap,” he said.
As for the types of crimes committed in Mason, Stressman said, “we really have very few serious felony arrests because we really don’t have serious crime here.”
One of the steady crimes Stressman said Mason has are cases of assaults. Based on the statistics provided in the annual police reports, these are the numbers for assault arrests dating back to 2003.
Stressman also said, “if you’re looking at just the Part I crimes, robbery, burglaries, we don’t have a lot of incidents of those considering the size of the city.”
The crime rate is not the only thing Stressman uses to assess the work of the police department.
“We do citizen surveys. We gauge our performance from our interaction with the community,” said Stressman. “That says a lot for the effectiveness of the organization.”
In these evaluations, members of the survey have the opportunity to judge how police cover the city, and the public’s image of the police. They also have the right to file comments about the department.
“When I see a good evaluation, that satisfies me. If I see a bad evaluation, I want to make sure it is turned into a good evaluation the next time,” he said. “That’s why we follow up with people that give us the poor evaluation so we can resolve the issue and find out what we could’ve done better. When I see that overall the community is satisfied with our performance, that satisfies me.”
Mayor Clark applauds Stressman and the department for the relationship they have established with the community.
“Chief Stressman is a stand-up guy,” he said. “He is the kind of guy that you want leading your police department in a small town because he is all about customer service. He is not afraid to talk to people and find out what they think about his department.”
Here are the results of the survey over the past five years.
“The positive comments outweigh the negatives and it makes me feel pretty good,” said Clark. “(The officers) are very approachable and we see it all the time. I couldn’t be more proud of the police department and Chief Stressman and the rest of the officers for the job they do.”
Stressman also keeps citizens informed on police actions in his weekly article, which can be found in the Mason section of the Lansing State Journal website. This is something Councilman Marlon Brown really appreciates.
“I love the statistical information,” he said.
Don Vickers, the commissioner of District 14 on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, also gives credit to the officers and Stressman.
“The policemen I know seem to be very conscientious and people-oriented more than just job-oriented. I think they are willing to go the long mile,” he said.
Vickers also mentioned that it is really important for the community and the officers to work as a team.
“One person tends to feed off another and vice versa, and that makes it a positive community,” he said. “The community can help the officers in doing their job if they have a feeling that everybody is in this together. It gives them a very positive feeling about the quality of life there.”
Mayor Clark has the same viewpoint on the importance of good community relationships.
“I don’t think you can put a value on it. For years and years, people stayed away from the cops and cops stayed away from people,” he said. “Now there’s a greater interaction between cops and people, from the average person on the street to school kids. They come up to engage the officers in conversation. Some of the kids even give the cops a hug.“
Someone else who has taken notice of the recent trends is City Administrator Marty Colburn.
“The statistics are looking better and I think that’s a good sign for society,” he said. “I don’t try to pretend that means it all goes away.”
Colburn believes the community policing has an extremely positive effect on the citizens.
“Overall, Mason is a safe place and I think the people feel very good about the community,” said Colburn.
Councilman Brown shares the same opinion.
“In my neighborhood, when the weather is warm, I see people walking around early in the morning and late in the evening. I think people feel safe in that regard,” he said. “I personally have no reason to feel unsafe at any hour of the day. I see patrol officers that drive through a couple of times a day. I think having those patrol officers gives the residents a peace of mind.”
Moving forward, Chief Stressman said he is looking at one form of crime that will increase.
“I think you’re going to see more telephone cloning, and more crimes via use of cellular telephones,” he said. “The U.S. Congress is working on legislation to make it mandatory for cell phone carriers to include a lockout that can be activated by a victim of cellphone theft so the phone can’t be used after it is stolen.”
He doesn’t think this will cure the problem, however.
“There just always seems to be a way for criminals to keep ahead of the system,” Stressman said. “I don’t anticipate that shut-off switch is going to be the end-all of those kinds of problems.”
In the end, despite the efforts and progress made in the past decade, Stressman believes crime will live on.
“We are never going to eliminate crime. It’s always going to be there. I think people feel very safe in Mason,” he said. “We do have a safe community and a confident group of police officers that are keeping it that way. That’s what it’s about, the quality of life here in Mason.”