Mich. governor proposes $75M to hire more cops, combat crime

The proposal would use emergency COVID-19 funds to hire more officers, crack down on illegal firearms and expand training

By George Hunter
The Detroit News

DETROIT — With crime up statewide, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Monday announced a $75 million three-pronged program that aims to reduce violence by using emergency COVID-19 funds.

The proposal, which is subject to legislative approval, would utilize money from the American Rescue Plan to invest in police departments to hire and retain officers; get illegal guns off the street; and provide education and job training.

"We are working together to address the crime increases we've seen across the state and across the country," Whitmer said at a press conference Monday at the Farwell Recreation Center on Detroit's east side.

Whitmer said crime statewide increased by 12% last year.

"People are scared," she said. "No one should feel unsafe."

Whitmer's announcement came after former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, a Republican who is expected to run for governor, announced his own law enforcement initiative.

The governor said the plan seeks to tackle crime by allocating money to hire more cops and encourage them to live in the communities they serve while providing education and training that will give young people opportunities that will steer them from criminal activity.

Money also would be provided to hire visiting judges to address the three-year backlog of court cases, Whitmer said. Programs for dealing with the mentally ill also will be funded.

"There's not just one solution to this complex problem," the governor said.

Whitmer said she and appointees met over the past month with police officers, community and faith leaders and families to get their perspectives on how the $75 million would be best allocated.

"We're bringing different perspectives to the table," she said.

[READ: How the American Rescue Plan can help your department fund needed communication equipment purchases]

Interim Detroit Police Chief James White said it's time to try new crime-fighting approaches.

"If you're doing something that doesn't work, literally do something different," he said. "Today represents doing something different.

White said the culture of crime needs to change. "We must make crime unacceptable," he said. "We must understand what drives crime.

"You cannot arrest your way out of these problems, because the moment we arrest someone there's someone else lining up to make a bad decision," White said.

White, a licensed counselor, said he was encouraged that Whitmer's proposal deals with mental health.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said she hopes some of the federal funds will be used to hire more assistant prosecutors to help address the backlog of court cases that piled up when courts were closed due to coronavirus concerns.

"We've got 3,000 trials backed up; 36th District Court has 5,000 cases backed up, and we have 24 other district courts in this state," Worthy said. "The court backup must be addressed."

Domestic violence cases shot up dramatically during the pandemic, Worthy said.

"We usually handle between 6,000 and 8,000 domestic violence cases each year. Last year, there were 10,000. This year, we're on track to have 12,000," Worthy said. "We normally handle seven to 12 domestic violence homicides a year; there were 24 last year, and 19 this year.

"Clearly, the pandemic has had an effect, but it would be a mistake to lay it all on COVID," Worthy said.

Worthy said she hoped to also see the expansion of jail diversion programs for nonviolent crimes, and more resources for dealing with the mentally ill.

"Just taking guns off the street alone won't work, because there are always more guns to replace them," she said. "Dealing with the root issues while tackling violent crime are the keys to success."

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, was signed by Biden in March to distribute $1.9 trillion in emergency funds, including nearly $122 billion for local and state educational agencies.

In his announcement, Craig called for strengthening law enforcement amid what he labeled a public safety "crisis." He appointed a team of sheriffs — including some Democrats — GOP lawmakers and a county prosecutor to recommend new laws to support police.

The group, which will grow, will begin meeting Aug. 23 and will survey law enforcement officials and invite local leaders to participate. Proposed legislation and actions will be released in the fall.

Craig also said he will use his bully pulpit to bring attention to crime issues, holding "Back MI Blue" events in September and challenging some prosecutors who "are refusing to enforce our laws." He mentioned Ingham County, where the prosecutor in recent days said she will limit the use of felony firearm possession charges that disproportionately affect Black people.

Craig, who is Black, said police departments cannot recruit because of the "anti-police movement." He blamed rising crime on failed policies.

"We need leadership that understands the severity of the problem and how to resolve it," he said in a statement. "We can't wait until election year. We must begin now."

Craig's Law Enforcement Action Team, or LEAT, includes Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and Gladwin County Sheriff Mike Shea, both Democrats, and Republicans such as Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, state House Speaker Jason Wentworth, former House speaker and 2018 attorney general candidate Tom Leonard — who may run again — and Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker.

Shea called Craig, who led Detroit's police department for eight years, "the right person at the right time to bring law enforcement from across the state together on a bipartisan basis to solve the problem of rising crime."

The Associated Press contributed.

(c)2021 The Detroit News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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