By BRIDGET BUSH
Capital News Service
LANSING—While the state’s Upper Peninsula can attract new police recruits, its Lower Peninsula has challenges attracting qualified officers, experts say.
The number of police officers is at an all-time low in Michigan, said Fred Timpner, executive director of the Michigan Association of Police.
“I’ve got departments in lower Michigan that have 10 openings and five applicants,” he said.
The reason is low pay and no retirement benefits, Timpner said. “What the public doesn’t realize is that 70-some percent of officers aren’t eligible for Social Security.
“People are going out of state because why would anyone risk their lives for $13 to $14 an hour after a college education?” Timpner said.
The irony is that the state provides exceptional training, Timpner said. “A lot of states come to Michigan to recruit because the academies do such a fine job of training.”
But Michigan needs more than great academies to keep and attract police officers.
“When you take a dangerous profession and then take away what little incentive there was, it’s harder to get people,” said Ken Love, coordinator of the Northern Michigan University Regional Police Academy and Public Safety Institute in Marquette.
Still, despite financial disincentives and society’s negative perception of police today, its Upper Peninsula police academy has more officers in its 2016 class than in the past three years.
“We had 21 graduates this year, 13 of which already have jobs, which is really good for being a month and a half out of training,” Love said.
“We don’t see a massive migration of officers at all. In fact, the majority of our recruits want to stay in Michigan and the U.P.,” Love said. He estimated that about 90 percent of the school’s graduates stay in state, of whom about 60 percent stay in the Upper Peninsula.
“There are so many openings in law enforcement right now — this is the time to become an officer,” Love said.
Finding a law enforcement job may not be a problem. But Timpner says keeping it is.
“People often use the metaphor of a three-legged stool– savings, pensions and 401k– when talking about preparing financially for your future. Well, law enforcement is being asked to sit on a one-legged stool: savings,” Timpner said. .
“I’m a taxpayer too, but there’s a cost to being a citizen,” he said. One of these costs is providing competitive pay to law enforcement personnel and protecting their pension plans, he said. That way we can “make sure that those who keep us safe, along with their families they go home to, are guaranteed financial security,” Timpner said.
By BRIDGET BUSH