LPD Offered North Precinct Rent Free

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The man who owns the building that holds the Lansing Police Department's north precinct is offering it to the city rent-free, in an effort to keep the department in the neighborhood.

"It is a sacrifice," said Harry Hepler, president of H Inc. which owns the building at 740 May St. "But at the same time they've been here 15 years and we certainly benefited from them being here."

Hepler says he would be willing to waive the $390,000 in rent for at least a year if LPD decides to stay. The police chief and mayor have both expressed their support for a move to the Hill Center on the city's south side -- which is owned by the Lansing School District -- so it can stretch out in more than 86,000 square feet of free space.

North-side residents though, are circulating a petition to tell the City Council to slow down and consider what would happen to the neighborhood the department wants to leave.

"[People] do like the police around, they feel safer," said Patrick Barnes, who lives on the north side. "That's one of my concerns, crime going up, houses getting broken into. With their presence here it declines crime."

Mayor Virg Bernero says there's no evidence to support that. LPD Chief Mike Yankowski has said the move would have no impact on response times or crime rates, since officers already deploy from their cars.

The mayor says he's wary of Hepler's proposal and he won't be accepting it.

"The fact is these are desperation, 11th hour tactics that I can't count on," Bernero said. "I can't run a city based on last-minute, seat of the pants proposals. I don't play games. Mr. Hepler may believe this is a game of high-stakes poker. I don't. I don't operate that way. We made a methodical, planned decision to work with the Lansing School District, and I'm sticking with that plan."

The city tried to negotiate a lease with Hepler, Bernero said, but Hepler wasn't interested in the city's plan for a short-term contract.

"Months and months ago, my team worked and negotiated and tried to get a reasonable extension, a bonafide proposal done with Mr. Hepler.," he said. "It proved impossible. He was unwilling or unable to provide a bonafide, clean proposal for an extension of the existing contract."

Hepler says he first offered a ten-year lease with an exit clause after one year but the mayor didn't want it. H Inc. provided money-saving proposal after proposal, Hepler said, but the city was never willing to cooperate.

"No, I don't think the administration wants to play ball at all," Hepler said. "I think they have an agenda down the road."

The city council will vote on the proposed move to the Hill Center at its Monday meeting. If approved, LPD plans to move in at the end of August.

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