Editorial: Michigan State Police efforts build trust
Across the country, and in Michigan, high-profile cases of police abusing their power have dominated the news in recent months. Consequently, it’s good to see a number of Michigan State Police programs in local communities that are striving to improve relationships with citizens.
One program, the Secure Cities Partnership, has the state police working with local law enforcement and community organizations in Flint, Detroit, Pontiac and Saginaw to reduce crime. Since these are some of Michigan’s most violent cities, that’s the right call.
Shannon Banner, spokeswoman for the State Police, says the cities use crime data to determine where to best use resources while staying within the state police budget. She notes the program is expanding to include, at least for the summer, Inkster, Muskegon Heights and Benton Harbor.
Meanwhile, the Community Action United Team In Our Neighborhoods (CAUTION), established about a year go by the State Police, is a partnership with clergy to offer support in critical incidents. Under this program, a city’s clergy are part of a quick response team that provides a calming influence to individuals. And the team serves as a liaison between law enforcement and the community.
In addition, Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT) was established about 20 years ago and is the oldest of the community engagement efforts. It includes the MSP but is under the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
Director Matthew Wesaw says the goal is to build a relationship of trust between law enforcement and the community.
ALPACT has a diverse membership that includes leaders and members of the community, civil rights and civil liberties organizations, and leaders from law enforcement. Members meet regularly to examine issues affecting police and community relations.
Also, the State Police are trying to diversify their ranks through minority recruiting. Since 2012, the State Police have had funds to hire new officers and has conducted more than 350 job fairs — nearly three-fourths in urban areas.
Realizing that changing community attitudes starts with the young, the MSP has several programs geared toward children and teenagers. The Michigan Youth Leadership Academy is a one-week residential camp held in the summer at State Police headquarters in Lansing. It provides mentoring for the youth.
Another program is TEAM — Teaching, Educating and Mentoring — and involves school-based classes taught by State Police troopers for grades K-12. Officers discuss bullying and teen dating, among other topics.
All of these efforts are supported by Gov. Rick Snyder, who has made them a part of his criminal justice initiative. At this point, the programs haven’t needed any legislative action.
However, one project that will eventually require help from lawmakers is the use of body cameras.
Banner says the department is evaluating the cameras in test programs.
Cost is a factor. In addition to the initial expense of about $1,000 per camera, storing the videos is costly. During an eight-hour shift, each officer uses about 16 gigabytes of storage, which is equivalent to the capacity of a cell phone. Funding would have to be approved by the Legislature.
Also, privacy issues will demand establishing policies and legislation that exempts some data from the Freedom of Information Act.
These State Police programs are important steps to building trust with communities, and focus law enforcement resources in the places that need them most.