Lansing — Cam Gordon had just been cut by the Kansas City Chiefs and was “team hopping” in the National Football League when he found his second calling.
The former University of Michigan and New England Patriots linebacker is enlisting with the Michigan State Police.
“I came to the realization that I just wasn’t performing the way that I once was,” said Gordon, 25, a Detroit native and Inkster High School graduate whose bruising football career included three stress fractures in his back, a knee injury and multiple concussions.
“So I said, ‘What is another career that will allow me to have an impact, have influence on younger kids and also leave behind a positive legacy?’ Instantly, state trooper — law enforcement — jumped into my mind.”
State police last week extended a conditional job offer to Gordon that would make him an official member of the next trooper recruiting school.
Gordon fills multiple needs for his new team, which is seeking young talent as hundreds of state police become eligible to retire in the next three years. As an African-American, he also complements the department’s efforts to boost diversity in what remains a predominately white police force.
State police officials say the looming wave of retirements could hurt the department despite Gov. Rick Snyder’s push to fund new recruiting schools and get more troopers on the road. A state senator who helps build state police budgets is worried trooper losses will jeopardize efforts to combat violent crime in cities such as Detroit and Flint.
Snyder’s proposed budget for 2018 includes an additional $9.2 million to train 100 new troopers, which his office says would bring the total number of state police personnel to its highest point since 2003. But the department has “a serious attrition issue coming up” that could cut into that number, state police Director Kriste Etue told legislators during a recent budget hearing.
More than 250 enlisted state police are expected to retire between June 2018 and September 2020, said spokeswoman Shanon Banner. That’s because graduates from six large recruiting classes are set to reach the 25-year threshold that affords them full retirement benefits from the state.
“At least 200 will be walking out the door. So if we hire 100 with this school, that’s really not even keeping up with attrition as we look forward to the year 2020,” Etue said.
The agency has hired hundreds of troopers in recent years under Snyder, she said, “but with attrition we’re netting just a couple hundred.”
Move to boost budgets
Snyder helped overhaul the department his first year in office, closing more than 20 state police posts in a move officials said would get more troopers out on the roads, using their patrol cars as mobile offices. After inheriting a budget that cut state police dollars in 2011, the Republican governor has steadily increased general fund support and helped pay for several recruiting schools.
But pending retirements have lawmakers questioning whether the state should be spending even more money on recruits than Snyder proposed.
“I’m worried that the Legislature is only doing enough to keep us where we’re at today, and the last thing I want is to see us dip as we’d done under the previous administration,” said state Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights.
There is agreement from state Sen. Mike Nofs, the Battle Creek Republican who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on state police funding. In a budget bill advanced last month, he proposed shifting $3 million from a disaster relief fund to train another 50 troopers next year.
“We need a recruit school of 150,” Nofs said. “Last year, we cut it down from the governor’s proposed 100 to 65. I’m trying to make up for it.”
Nofs, who joined the Legislature in 2009 after a 25-year career with the Michigan State Police, said he’ll try to fund training for at least 150 new troopers the following year as well. He will have to negotiate with budget officials in the state House, where a panel advanced the governor’s request for 100 recruits next year.
Without a boost in graduates, Nofs fears pending retirements could undercut the department’s ability to supplement local law enforcement efforts. That includes the “secure cities” initiative that supporters say has helped drive down violent crime rates in Detroit, Flint and Saginaw.
“Locals are having a hard time funding their police and fire, and if the state backed off, then obviously the response times and the assistance and backups would be farther away,” Nofs said. “Your call investigations would slow down and the response times for getting criminals off the street would go a lot longer. You’d have to prioritize some of the calls.”
Snyder first proposed the secured cities partnership in 2012 to support cities that ranked among the most dangerous in the country. Violent crime in Detroit dropped 12.9 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Rates dropped 14.3 percent in Flint and 18.1 percent in Saginaw.
Michigan’s current-year budget included $1.5 million to expand the initiative to Muskegon Heights, Inkster, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Highland Park and Benton Harbor.
“We’ve got to keep MSP troopers up, and the best part is, they’re transferable and they’re mobile,” Nofs said. “So wherever the problems are, you get them out there.”
‘I don’t want to take it lightly’
State police trooper numbers dropped significantly during the previous decade as a result of a stagnant economy, budget woes and reductions in federal funding.
Michigan had 1,344 troopers at the start of fiscal year 2001, dropping nearly 30 percent to 945 by 2010, according to state police. The total number of enlisted officers dropped from 2,236 to 1,679 during the same span, a 25 percent reduction.
Numbers have begun to rebound under Snyder. At the start of the current year, there were 1,914 enlisted state police, including 1,112 troopers. The governor’s current-year budget included $3.2 million to train another 65 new troopers.
State police operated 13 recruit schools and graduated 1,133 troopers in the 1990s, compared with three schools and 314 troopers in the 2000s. Troopers who graduated in the early 1990s are now reaching their 25-year service mark, making them eligible for retirement.
Thirty-eight new troopers graduated from a recruit school in February. During the 24-week course, the department says recruits were trained in firearms, water safety, defensive tactics, patrol techniques, report writing, ethics, first aid, criminal law, crime scene processing and precision driving.
The residential program requires recruits to stay at MSP Training Academy, where they begin their days at 5 a.m. before lights out at 10 p.m. They are allowed to leave only during the weekends.
“I’ve heard it’s tough,” said Gordon, who signed with the Patriots in 2014 as an undrafted free agent. “I don’t want to go in there thinking, ‘Oh, man, I played pro. This is going to be easy.’ I don’t want to take it lightly.”
While not all prospective troopers graduate from the training schools, state police officials have boosted recruiting efforts and say they aren’t having too much difficulty filling their classes.
“We still have, thankfully, a lot of people who want to become state troopers even despite some of the negative media and things of that nature,” Etue said. “There is still a calling of this very noble profession ... .”
A push to recruit minorities
First Lt. Bob Hendrix, commander of recruiting and selection, said the state police tries to keep a flow of recruits in the pipeline so the department is ready if and when it gets funding for additional trooper training schools. The initial process, including entry-level exams and background checks, can take months.
With retirements looming, “we are stepping up our recruiting efforts and even trying to reach out in ways we might not normally do, like basketball games or football games, anywhere we can get before a crowd of people and maybe drum up interest,” Hendrix said.
Gordon, whose older brother works for the Detroit Police Department, said he always has looked up to law enforcement officers and wants to help improve any negative perceptions that may exist.
“I feel like I can be the difference and have a positive impact,” he said.
The state police department has struggled with diversity, which officials say is key to building trust in communities of color. Etue said the state police has made a concerted effort to attract recruits who more closely resemble the populations they serve.
As of March 25, the enlisted state police force was more than 88 percent white and more than 90 percent male. The 1,875 enlisted officers included 121 African-Americans, 47 Hispanics and 14 Asians or Pacific Islanders. There were 187 women.
Michigan State Police is “actively recruiting” in places such as Metro Detroit, Muskegon Heights and Benton Harbor, Etue said. In August 2016, the department graduated its first Arab-American woman, who sang the national anthem at the ceremony.
“We’re seeing women return, but it’s going to be a challenge for law enforcement as a whole to get good, diverse candidates,” Etue said. “Quite frankly, you can’t start at the college level. … We must get into schools at a younger age and talk about the life of service state police provide.”
State Police employee trends
The number of enlisted personnel and troopers for the Michigan State Police dipped for at least a decade but have grown in the past few years under Gov. Rick Snyder.
Year Enlisted Troopers
FY 2001 2,236 1,344
FY 2002 2,141 1,253
FY 2003 2,048 1,175
FY 2004 1,878 1,080
FY 2005 1,873 1,100
FY 2006 1,817 1,054
FY 2007 1,798 1,040
FY 2008 1,761 1,036
FY 2009 1,826 1,101
FY2010 1,679 945
FY 2011 1,679 957
FY 2012 1,602 957
FY 2013 1,613 926
FY2014 1,698 966
FY 2015 1,807 1,036
FY 2016 1,807 1,011
FY 2017 1,914 1,112
Source: Michigan State Police