Detroit-area officials urge more funding for police recruitment, training

Officials pointed to an increase in violent crime in specific counties and across the state in recent years

By Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

WATERFORD, Mich. — Local and state leaders advocated Monday for continued support for law enforcement, calling on other elected officials to increase funding for police to allow for better recruitment and better training.

The bipartisan group, which included Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, pointed to the increase in violent crime in specific counties and across the state in recent years as just one of the reasons why legislators and local leaders should spend more money on their police forces.

"It's really important we get the word out with what's happening across the state and the nation with law enforcement," said state Sen. Jim Runestead, a Republican from White Lake who called the news conference with Sen. Ruth Johnson, R- Holly. "In 2019 in Michigan, we lost one officer in the line of duty. In 2020, we lost 10. In 2021, we lost seven officers, and this year we've already lost two officers."

The most recent, Runestad said, was Capt. Collin Birnie, a Flint police officer who died Feb. 4 in a traffic crash.

Bouchard spoke about how difficult it was to recruit people to the department, a point other sheriffs echoed. He said it was difficult to be in a profession that is under attack from the public and from politicians.

The amount of money dedicated to training officers is too low to ensure they are properly prepared for the kinds of situations they may face while in the field, he said.

"The training facilities are not up to date," Bouchard told The Detroit News. "Most police departments have a static range where you stand in line. That's not real-world training. And there's a lot of other situations you need to train for, that you need to see what you did wrong so you don't do it next time. Very few of those exist in Michigan, but they exist all over the country."

He added he wanted to see funding also increased for social services such as social workers so police are not always responding to situations where someone is having a mental health crisis, for example.

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Hackel, who for a decade before he was elected county executive served as the Macomb County sheriff, said he wanted to see public officials stop "pitting the public against law enforcement."

"I get it. The conversation is, 'Oh, do people like the police or not like the police? Politicians want to use this as their political platform," Hackel told The News, arguing that the focus should instead by on how to fund the needs of law enforcement.

"But I want to get through that, because I'm not here to have those conversations. It's not that you're either for or against. ... There is work to be done. Players need to come to the table with a voice of reason approach and have the appropriate conversations."

Several speakers noted that they had several openings in their department that they struggled to fill. Wayne Beerbower, an executive board member for the Police Officers Association of Michigan, said he hoped to see government leaders reprioritize their budgets to try to attract new officers.

Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's budget plan proposed spending $50 million for retaining state police, firefighters and corrections employees. It would be financed by a mixture of state revenue and federal COVID-19 relief aid.

Berbower suggested improving pension programs or reinstating other benefits that attracted people to the profession in the past. He also urged that communities consider asking voters to approve a law enforcement millage.

"I think in this day and age, you'd probably be surprised at how receptive (voters) would be," Beerbower said.

Runestad said the Senate appropriations committee would think about ways to better support law enforcement. When asked if he had any specific plans to propose, Runestead said he and Johnson called the news conference "to get input because we don't have all the answers."

"We've got to turn this around," Runestead said. "We've got to be able to recruit officers. The money is there, but it's just about prioritizing it in the right spots."

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