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Funding for police training in jeopardy in Michigan

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Livonia — The number of cops on the beat across the state has taken a hit and so has funding for continued training after they graduate from the academy.

Fewer police means less tickets, and that's cutting into the budget for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, which issues grants for continuing education for cops, prosecutors and defense lawyers.

The commission recently sent out an advisory that it will not accept competitive grant applications for 2016. The grants have traditionally reflected 40 percent of funds provided overall for officer training. Departments won't lose, though, commission funding for training based on their number of officers — about $180 each.

The bottom line: Criminal justice will suffer unless other sources can be found for training funds, according to experts such as Auburn Hills Police Chief Doreen Olko, an Law Enforcement Standards commissioner and its former chairperson for the past eight years.

"If we lose our ability to train good police officers, it is not good for communities," she said.

In 1982 as part of the Michigan Justice Training Fund, a $5 surcharge on traffic tickets was imposed to raise money to train officers.

Sixty percent of the revenue was to be distributed to departments across Michigan. The other 40 percent was to go toward competitive grants and to train defense attorneys and prosecutors.

In 2001, Gov. John Engler combined Criminal Justice Training and the Law Enforcement Standards commission, biting into the money raised.

Under the Jennifer Granholm and Rick Snyder administrations, administrative costs for the commission came out of the money collected, further eroding how much is available for programs.

David Harvey, the commission's executive director, said there are 18,522 officers in Michigan, down from 22,488 officers in 2001 as a result of budget cuts.

That — along with restrictions on how long police can be on the road — has resulted in fewer tickets being written. And that means less money for training.

"We were getting $5 million annually from traffic ticket surcharges," he said. "That has dropped.

"Additionally, despite our staff being reduced from 28 to 18 people, our costs have gone up. There is a $3.7 million annual cost to run MCOLES, about $750,000 comes from the State Police general fund but that is going to be eliminated."

Garden City Police officer Kevin Ingrody says the training provided through the commission "is very valuable to me."

He took part last week in a "Shoot, Don't Shoot" program at Schoolcraft College in Livonia with fellow officer Patrick Schneider where realistic life-size video dramatizations with dialogue and gunfire played out inside a darkened room.

In a matter of minutes in the session conducted by the Wayne County Regional Training Center, Schneider and Ingrody faced shootouts with suspects jumping out of cars; a workplace violence situation; a woman hostage with a knife held to her throat; and a Columbine-type incident with screaming teenagers lying wounded in high school classrooms.

Schneider, a 25-year veteran, and Ingrody, just 18 months on the job, had to respond with split-second decisions and to "fire" electric rounds from their replica Glock pistols at a threat on the screen or be fired upon. While stressful, they appreciated a chance for training neither hopes to ever have to use.

Said Olko: "There are facets of training, like firearms, in which as much time is spent on focusing on decisions made before pulling a trigger. ... Without properly training officers, you lose confidence in the communities."

Training up to departments

A police cadet must complete 594 hours of training, from first-aid and firearms to handling domestic violence situations and legal updates.

Some academies, such as Schoolcraft College, require 680 hours of training. Michigan State Police put troopers through an extensive 21-week academy.

However, after becoming a sworn officer, the only continual, state-mandated training for officers is qualifying on a firearms range for four hours. All other in-service and training is the responsibility of and done at the discretion of individual departments.

Under the grant programs, prosecuting attorney and defense attorney groups each received roughly $112,000 in 2014 while the bulk of the money — about $700,000 — was divided among police departments and colleges such as Schoolcraft, Grand Valley State University and Northern Michigan University.

In 2014, about $1.1 million was shared by six police departments and 10 colleges for training ranging from use of force at Delta College ($5,835) to $171,909 awarded to the Forensic Science Division of the Michigan State Police. In 2010, $2.4 million was split between applicants.

"Training is a big concern," said Fred Stanton, coordinator of the Wayne County Regional Police Training Center, which operates a training consortium for 35 police agencies and grant-funded classes.

"Failure to train becomes a major legal issue if a matter goes into court," he said. "If an officer has not been properly trained in how to handle a situation, it can come back to haunt them and their department and city."

Attorney funds also shrink

Larry Burdick, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council said the commission's training funds have been shrinking for about a decade.

"We once received about $300,000 a year," Burdick said. "In 2015, that dropped to $166,000 and now, we have been told, no grants next year."

Burdick, who was a prosecutor in Mount Pleasant for 24 years, said the money helps pay for 22 training programs for assistant prosecuting attorneys and hundreds on their staffs.

"We're trying to have it put back in the budget in some way and have spoken to the Senate appropriations committee and will be talking to the House. But I don't know what good it will do. We are climbing uphill."

Equally as important is training for defense lawyers have the necessary skills when they go into the courtroom and fight for the rights of their clients, said William Maze, president of the Defense Attorneys Association of Michigan. Maze recently addressed the problem at a meeting of defense attorneys in Troy.

Where training funds will come from in the future, is anyone's guess. Those who coordinate training efforts, such as Stanton in Wayne County, say they are going to have to become "more creative" in training and finding money.

Olko wonders what the future holds for the commission.

"Our mandate is to have police officers properly trained. But if you eliminate funding, how do you accomplish that?"

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319