Michigan police ranks down 16 percent from decade ago

LANSING (AP) -- Michigan has 16 percent fewer police officers on the street now than it did a decade ago, and communities around the state are trying to find more efficient ways to keep people safe.

State and local police agencies have an estimated 18,849 officers today, compared with 22,488 in 2001. The plunge in property values and the economic losses that struck during the recession have pinched city, township and county budgets. Voters in some communities have approved taxes to keep police and fire services, while others have rejected them.

In Oakland County's Waterford Township, voters in November rejected a 1.95-mill property tax increase for police protection.

"We talked about it in the neighborhood. Everybody is tired of paying higher taxes," Jake Hines, a small business owner and Waterford resident for 11 years, told the Detroit Free Press.

Samantha Harkins of the Michigan Municipal League said public safety is a key to creating dynamic communities.

"If you don't have safe communities, really, that's sort of a cornerstone of having a vibrant community," she said.

Voters in Macomb County's Chesterfield Township rejected a 2.5-mill police tax in November. Officials say they plan to submit another request to voters in 2013 and will lay off 40 percent of their officers should that fail, said police Chief Bruce Smith.

"It's going to be drastic cuts to personnel," he said, adding "there's no other way."

Detroit has lost police officers as it tries to overcome a financial crisis but has seen most major crimes drop anyway. Killings have increased, though.

Some communities have turned to consolidations or outside contracting to control police and other public safety costs.

Pontiac has contracted all its police services to the Oakland County sheriff's department to save $2.2 million a year, and New Haven is making a similar arrangement with the Macomb County sheriff in 2013.

"A lot of communities look at it, and the ones that take the plunge have been tremendously happy," said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, whose county has 42 independent police agencies. "We're not in the business of going out and soliciting contracts, but we know we have a very successful model with very competitive terms."

In Macomb County, Eastpointe, Roseville and St. Clair Shores formed an authority in 2010 to provide police, fire and emergency dispatch calls from one center. The Wayne County cities of Wayne and Westland already share fire services and are look into merging dispatch services as well, said Fire Chief Michael Reddy.

Harkins said the Michigan Municipal League considers consolidation of public safety services as an option that works for some cities.

"We really consider consolidation a community-specific thing," she said.

Published: Thu, Jan 3, 2013