House GOP plans $80M to aid law enforcement recruitment, mental health services

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan House Republicans on Thursday announced an $80 million plan to help local police and sheriff departments increase their numbers and provide mental health aid to employees. 

The effort, which was added to a supplemental bill passed Thursday by the House in a 65-42 vote, would include about $30 million in state general fund dollars for training academy recruit stipends and scholarships, $10 million for community policing programs, and $10 million for mental health services for police and first responders.

The funding also would include about $5 million for signing bonuses, $10 million for local law enforcement "explorer programs" or job shadow programs, $2.1 million for recruitment marketing, $2.7 million for secondary road patrols and $10 million for body cameras. 

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, announces $80 million for police recruitment and retention during a press conference at the Michigan Capitol on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said efforts to "defund the police" and other rhetoric have been "beating this profession down" over the last several years. 

"The problem comes when this issue is misunderstood and politicized by activists and politicians regurgitating talking points and manipulating passions for their own gain," Wentworth said at a press conference announcing the funding. He was joined by several sheriffs and lawmakers who formerly worked in law enforcement.

"It is well past time we move past that and listen to the people back home who rely on strong police protection and the officers on the ground who are working through these issues every day," Wentworth said. 

The House-approved funding bill is the third of three supplemental spending bills that expend most of the remaining federal COVID relief funds allocated by Congress in December and March. The nearly $13 billion supplemental includes about $1 billion of state general fund dollars. 

The policing support plan announced Thursday does not include requirements that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer championed last year, such as mandatory de-escalation and implicit bias training, mental health screenings, "duty to intervene" policies and bans on chokeholds.

On Thursday, Whitmer's office said she and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist introduced a similar plan last year and were eager "to work with anyone who wants to work with us to get things done."

“Their plan was developed in partnership with community leaders and law enforcement organizations with the goal of building a better system of trust and accountability within communities," said Bobby Leddy, a spokesman for Whitmer. "We look forward to partnering with the Legislature to make steps in the right direction.”

House Democrats criticized the plan announced Thursday, noting Republicans had ignored a Democratic amendment to a state police budget bill Wednesday that would have funded "21st century solutions to policing" such as body cameras, community engagement efforts and crisis intervention teams. 

“Today, they offered lip service and a pale imitation of what House Democrats proposed. We put actions behind our words," said House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township.

Besides the lack of police reform policies, House Democrats also criticized Republicans for professing police support but then tying about $11.9 million in premium pay for state police to the passage of a bill that would limit the transfer authority of the state administrative board. 

"There is nothing in that amendment to protect citizens, taxpayers from bad officers," said Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit. "... If you want to show real support for the men who do this job day in and day out, don’t do a press conference, don’t give us fluff, give us something real.”

Wentworth said lawmakers would continue to work on law enforcement legislation but the immediate funding is "focused solely right now on supporting our men and women in uniform.”

Rep. Mike Mueller, a Linden Republican and former law enforcement officer, pushed for more mental health funding based in part on help he received in 2009 after he was involved in a non-fatal shooting while on duty. 

"It really does take a tremendous mental toll," Mueller said. "... I would not be standing here today if it wasn’t for the proactive actions of my department." 

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said his department is down about 75 people. Recruitment is "incredibly challenging," he said, given the climate around policing and discussions to end qualified immunity. 

"We've had people that were in the finals of our backgrounds and say 'You know, given what's going on, I don't want to be in this career anymore,'" Bouchard said. 

Still, Bouchard said "there are things that can and should be done" to help improve law enforcement in Michigan and elsewhere.

"No person wants bad cops off the streets more than cops," he said. "Reform on those issues absolutely is supported. But you have to focus on the fact that the vast majority of men and women are doing the right thing every day."