Shane Hernandez, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and Port Huron resident, met Friday with St. Clair County Sheriff Mat King and Sanilac County Sheriff Paul Rich to discuss the challenges facing facing law enforcement today.
King and Rich said one of their biggest challenges was recruiting enough law enforcement officers to fill their ranks. It’s also a challenge to retain officers who might otherwise be drawn to other, larger, more urban departments by the promise of better pay and benefits.
“My number one priority right now would be to train staff who want to stay and live in our community,” Rich said.
Rich said retention is especially difficult for his rural department, which doesn’t have the budget to compete with the salaries of larger departments. They spend tens of thousands of dollars outfitting and outfitting new officers, only to have them leave.
While the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department offers a retirement plan for highway patrol deputies, most departments no longer do. A pension can usually only be collected in a specific department, but other retirement plans such as 401Ks can follow the agent, giving them an incentive to stay in a department for their entire career, King said.
Rich said the public sector cannot compete in wages and benefits with private sector jobs. King said one possible solution is to create a federally funded pension program for law enforcement officers so departments can focus their budgets more on salaries.
King said another factor contributing to the shortage of personnel in law enforcement is a loss of respect and interest in the profession from the general public over the past decade due to the negative media attention to some bad police actions.
Republican gubernatorial candidate’s plan to address staffing shortages and bolster public safety services
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon’s plan calls for $1 billion in funding for public safety over four years. Hernandez said it would be drawn from the state’s general fund. While it’s unclear where the funding in the general fund would come from, Hernandez said that in years past the state had had a surplus and he would be able to find the dollars for the ‘effort.
The plan is designed to provide incentives to retain and recruit new law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS professionals to ease personnel shortages and increase public safety.
The package includes:
- $700 million for retention and recruitment programs
- Money to cover public safety tuition and money to provide a living allowance while in school, as well as retention and signing bonuses.
- Offer work-study programs to help potential police and fire recruits shadow experienced officers and expand exploration programs for high school students.
- Incentives to “move to Michigan” that include guarantees to ensure pension benefits are maintained and to provide additional benefits such as free hunting and fishing licenses and recreation passports.
- Grants will be made available to help police, fire and other public safety programs market their professions and attract more applicants
- $250 million for equipment and training:
- Provide resources for law enforcement to purchase body cameras, narcotics task force equipment, first responder bags, second sets of fire gear, CO monitors, automatic chest compression devices and whatever else may be needed to serve the public.
- Provide additional training, including de-escalation techniques.
- Provide resources to help first responders dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues
- $50 million to locate and detain offenders
- Provide new lab facilities to process forensic evidence more quickly, including funding to process rape kits and backlogs of firearms cases in the justice system.
- Fund reimbursements to track down fleeing offenders or extradite them from other jurisdictions to face charges.
- A public safety task force to assist legislative leaders and legislative committees in designing and adopting Dixon’s agenda.
Hernandez emphasized that public safety is the root of a thriving community.
“Whether we’re talking about jobs in our community, affordable housing in our community, or education in our community, none of that can happen without a safe community,” Hernandez said.
Dixon and the sheriff claim an increase in violent crime in recent years
Dixon’s program indicates a reported increase in violent crime in the few years leading up to 2020.
According to the FBI’s Unified Crime Reporting database, from 2019 to 2020 Michigan’s violent crime rate fell from 438.6 per 100,000 to 478 per 100,000, compared to the national rate of 380 to 398.5 per 100,000, respectively. That’s the highest violent crime rate the state and nation has seen since 2010, when crime was 493 for Michigan and 404.5 for the nation per 100,000.
But from 2016 to 2018, the crime rate remained relatively stable between 460.9 and 452.5 per 100,000 in Michigan, the data shows.
King said violent crime has been on the rise over the past two years and pointed to an increase in repeat offenders and violent incidents such as two kidnappings and an attempted murder this year.
King also said the rise of methamphetamine as the predominant drug of choice breeds violence. St. Clair County faces particular challenges in the fight against drug trafficking due to two highways that begin in the county, as well as an international border and two towns within driving distance that attract traffickers drugs to sell their product.
“Violent crime is on the rise,” King said.
King said that in 2019, before the pandemic, the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Drug Task Force seized 104 guns and 107 grams of meth, compared to 304 guns and 3,774 grams of meth seized in 2021.
“Methamphetamine and guns equal violence, there’s no doubt about it,” King said.
In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, 113 violent crime incidents and 140 violations were reported by the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department to the FBI’s UCR database. In 2019, there were 130 incidents and 148 infractions, compared to 2018, with 211 incidents and 247 infractions.
The Sanilac County Sheriff’s Department reported 30 violent crime incidents and 38 violations; 24 incidents and 34 crimes in 2019, and 44 incidents and 52 crimes in 2018, according to FBI data
Violent crime statistics for 2021 and 2022 were not immediately available from either sheriff’s department.
Contact Laura Fitzgerald at (810) 941-7072 or [email protected]