Budget Problems Lead to Fewer Police Officers in Michigan

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan has an estimated 1,600 fewer state and local police officers on the job now than it did when terrorists struck the nation in 2001.
Possible state budget cuts soon could result in another wave of law enforcement layoffs.
Sooner or later, law enforcement officials say, that could result in more crime and communities that aren't as safe. Already, some departments have eliminated shifts, spent less time on traffic enforcement and have been slower to respond to some types of lower priority calls.
Coupled with a possible early release of some prisoners the state is considering as part of its budget-balancing efforts, law enforcement groups are worried about the consequences.
"This is a crime time bomb," said Terrence Jungel, a former Ionia County sheriff who now directs the Michigan Sheriffs' Association. "Crime is going to go up. And unfortunately, those aren't just statistics. Those are real people."
Part of the reason why Michigan has about 7 percent fewer state and local law enforcement officers than in 2001 stems from a shift of emphasis from the federal government.
Some federal grants that once paid for officers now are mandated to buy gas masks, bomb squad robots and other equipment used in the fight on terror.
But Michigan has its own trends that have led to more layoffs of police and fire personnel. The state has cut so much that agencies from as far away as Alaska, Arizona and Wyoming have hired or inquired about Michigan officers who face layoffs.
Michigan's government budget problems are among the worst in the nation, which has limited the amount of state tax money shared with local governments. The result has been budget cuts in counties, cities and townships across the state -- including to public safety departments.
Michigan State Police has roughly 250 fewer troopers now than in late 2001, a decline of about 18 percent. Up to 29 troopers could be laid off in June. They would have been pink-slipped already if not for the troopers' union, which gave the state $400,000 earlier this month to keep the officers on the job at least temporarily.
Another concern is that funding for a program aimed at thwarting auto theft could be slashed in the next round of state budget cuts. At least partly because of a sluggish economy, tax revenues coming into state government have been below expectations for the past several months.
Detroit has about 1,000 fewer police officers than in late 2001. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick hopes to partially address that situation soon by hiring 200 officers, including new hires and filled vacancies.
Grand Rapids has 54 fewer officers than in 2001, a 14 percent decline.
"They have a lot more running to do from one call to the next," said Barb Lester, a crime prevention organizer for the Heritage Hill Association, a Grand Rapids neighborhood group. "That can be difficult."
Most other local police departments have made cuts that aren't as steep, but still could hurt services.
Jackson has trimmed more than 10 percent of its police department overall including crime analysis and clerical civilian employees.
Jackson police made 14,000 traffic stops three years ago, but only 9,000 last year.
In the Upper Peninsula's Marquette County, police say road patrols have become so spotty that motorists are taking advantage. Combining all departments, an estimated 30 officers have been lost countywide since 2001, according to the sheriff's department. That makes it tough to cover all of the county, which at 1,800 square miles is far larger than most in Michigan.
"We've seen a lot of increase in speeding," Marquette County Sheriff Michael Lovelace said. "The daily commute is basically a race."
State police have cut back on polygraph operators, which hurts the local law enforcement agencies that rely on those services.
"It certainly detracts from the investigation process. It certainly lengthens the process," said Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
Budget cuts may add to delays at the state police crime lab, which already is swamped with requests for DNA samples and ballistic reports. The advancement of science has led to more local departments requesting help from the state lab as they try to build evidence for criminal cases.
Some police agencies say they have eliminated foot and bike patrols or cut back on neighborhood efforts that help build positive relationships within a community. Too often, that leaves police visible only when there is trouble or tension.
"The nature of our relationship is going to change, and it's going to change negatively," Jackson Police Chief Ervin Portis said. "Every year we have fewer and fewer police officers. At some point we will pay a terrible price for that."

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