By JOSHUA BENDER
Capital News Service
LANSING — The number of police officers in Michigan shrank by 15.4 percent between 2001 and 2014, according to a recently released report by the House Fiscal Agency.
Yet despite that drop, crime in Michigan fell by roughly 34 percent during the same period, according to the State Police.
These simultaneous declines are surprising, some in Michigan’s law enforcement community said.
“It kind’ve flies in the face of conventional wisdom from 15 years ago,” said Robert Buursma, a captain in the Holland Police Department.
The drop is not as dramatic as it appears in light of Michigan’s shrinking population. In 2014 it had 9.91 million people, compared to 9.95 in 2000.
In 2001, one crime was committed for every nine Michigan residents. In 2014, the rate had dropped to one crime for every 13 residents, according to the State Police.
Nonetheless, the reduction has proven challenging, say law enforcement officials and legislators. Police agencies at every level—city, county and state– were included in the study.
“No doubt, we’re doing more with less,” said Nate Johnson, president of the Michigan State Troopers Association.
This reduction in police is due to budgetary concerns, said Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.
“We’ve gone through difficult times in the last years,” he said. “Law enforcement doesn’t create a tangible product you can hold in your hand, so when times get tough people are more willing to cut back on police.”
The drop in funding is somewhat understandable, said Holland’s Buursma.
“There are many issues the state has to address,” he said. “Everyone wants more funding but it has to be reasonable at the same time.”
Police departments have cut back on office and support staff to keep more officers on the road, said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former sheriff of Eaton County.
The reduction of officers behind desks combined with improved technology has led to a blending of police officers’ roles, he said.
“Patrol cars have basically turned into mobile offices,” Johnson said. “You have computers, cell phones all while out on the road providing services.”
Computers inside patrol cars allow police to work more efficiently, Jones said. “At one time to check on a driver status or criminal warrant you had to use the radio and it was very cumbersome.”
The reduction of officers, including those on the road, means police mostly respond after a crime is committed rather than preventing it, Jungel said.
“We are less able to prevent things like drunk driving that require us to actually be on the roads,” he said.
Yet incidents of intoxicated driving have dropped by roughly 42 percent since 2001, according toState Police statistics.
Crime is going down, in part, because of Michigan’s graying population, said Jones. “The population is older and crime is mostly (associated) with younger people.”
By JOSHUA BENDER