Flint, MI– The Flint Police Department hopes to use American Rescue Plan Act funding to regain control of 911 for the city and fund various public safety initiatives.
The city learned that it would be receiving $94.7 million in ARPA funding as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic. While the money is COVID-19-related, the city can use it to tackle other issues, including public safety.
During a budget hearing for the police department on April 14, Flint City Council members suggested finding ways to use the ARPA funds to support the police, and lessen the city’s general fund expenditures.
According to the proposed budget, police and fire departments account for 62% of the FY2023 budgeted General Fund expenditures.
Here are some of the concerns council members brought up related to the plan for policing in the community and the proposed budget.
Hiring more officers
“We know from current trends that if we have X amount of police officers, we can expect X amount of crime, and we’re not doing anything to sway those in great numbers,” said Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer. “So as a community, I think we can expect high murder rates for the given future until we can come up with a budget that escalates more enforcement, more boots on the ground, more investigators, the whole thing.”
According to the budget, there are 118 full-time police officer positions and 24 full-time civilian personnel positions budgeted for 2022. For 2023, the proposed budget includes 116 full-time police officers and 27 full-time civilian positions.
For part-time positions, there are eight police officers and 38 civilian officers budgeted for 2022. For 2023, the number of part-time police officers increases to 11, and civilian positions drop to 37.
Police Chief Terence Green said he wasn’t sure why the number of full-time police officers decreased in the budget. The finance department was not present at the hearing to answer questions council had about various aspects of the budget.
“We have to increase our visibility in the community, and that’s only done by hiring more police officers,” Green said.
The department currently has 100 sworn police officers, he said, with five people in the police academy now. He said the department anticipates sending another seven to the academy soon.
Since Sept. 1, 2020, Green said that the department has hired 29 police officers, but there are still 25 vacant officer positions.
“The problem is we’re constantly competing with other departments, officers transferring and lately the biggest void has been retirements,” Green said. He said that nine sworn police officers are eligible to retire by July 1.
One area he said would be helpful to the department is for more of the part-time civilian staff to become full-time. The civilian staff, he said, are the ones doing the internal work like answering phones and taking complaints, freeing up officers to patrol and respond to calls.
“Those civilian employees that are part-time, I need at least four of them to be upgraded to full-time,” Green said. He said the budget doesn’t need to change now because those positions are vacant, but once they are filled, he would like to upgrade the positions to full-time and change the future budget.
Councilman Eric Mays proposed that the council come up with a budget to “go big” for advertising police officer positions on television.
“We can decide how big a budget we need for advertising because that advertising can be seen from Flint to Bay City to Midland, Saginaw,” he said. “And if we get the recruitment packages together, I just believe we’ll get our numbers up, and we can fix the patrol and or the detective unit. I’m willing to spend a million dollars or more trying.”
Green said wanting higher pay and smaller workloads are the most common reasons officers give for leaving the department.
He compared Flint’s numbers to another department and found that entry-level officers in Mt. Morris Township make an hourly salary of $20.73. In Flint, entry-level officers make $19.43 an hour. Additionally, he said Flint officers responded to 58,000 calls in 2021, and Mt. Morris Township officers responded to 28,000.
On Feb. 14, the council approved a resolution using ARPA funds to give premium pay to qualifying Flint Police Department sworn officers, Flint Fire Department certified fire suppression personnel, and qualifying public safety civilian support personnel. In March, the council approved another $500,000 in ARPA funding to give incentives to new police hires.
Green said both of these resolutions helped to improve officer morale.
Councilwoman Eva Worthing said the council can’t just raise their salaries and that it must be done through the officers’ union.
“I do think that we need to reevaluate how much we’re paying salary-wise, but I’m really glad that the ARPA funds could help us recruit more officers,” Worthing said.
Purchase technology to assist policing
“One of my biggest things is dumping and putting cameras up in areas where they are consistently dumping. … So hopefully, in this proposed budget, or your ARPA dollar budget, there is a request for high-tech cameras in those areas of dumping,” said Councilman Quincy Murphy.
Green said the department has deployed cameras for hotspots for blight and dumping.
“The police department strategically placed high-quality surveillance cameras to assist in preventing and solving violent crime, as well as illegal dumping and property crimes,” Green said.
But he said he didn’t feel those cameras were “efficient enough,” so the department ordered more “high-tech” cameras.
He said that the department ordered 12 cameras using a grant but is still waiting for them to be delivered so they can be deployed. The department is also waiting for the delivery of body cameras.
Mays said he wasn’t excited about the prospect of 12 additional cameras.
“Guess what makes me excited? 212,” Mays said.
Green said the department would like to purchase more cameras but told the council they are expensive at $12,000 each. He said they were applying for grants to purchase them, but Mays said the city already has a grant.
“We got a grant, we got $94 million. They’re called ARPA funds,” Mays said.
Currently, Green said, the department has just one of the $12,000 high-tech cameras and circulates it in different locations.
The police budget for 2022 has $5,145,766 of expenditures under the “Supplies & Operating Expenses” category. In 2023, that amount will increase to $5,699,000.
Councilwoman Judy Priestley also suggested using ARPA funds to purchase the cameras.
“If we can throw money into ARPA for equipment, let’s throw the extra in back into salaries,” she said.
Taking control of 911
Green told the council that the police department has been talking with the administration about returning control of 911 to the city instead of the county.
“But the funding has to come out of ARPA dollars. So if they’re committed to providing us ARPA dollars to do this, yes, we will do it,” Green said.
He estimated that the initial startup costs would be about $3 to $4 million and that the costs for staffing would come out of the 911 surcharge. He said the equipment is already at the facility.
“We’ve already conducted the research. So all the administration has to do is tell us yes, we’re doing this and we’re going to use ARPA dollars to do it,” Green said. “That’s the only way we could do it.”
For a priority one 911 call, Green said the department’s average response time is about 30 minutes. He wants that time cut in half.
With the city controlling 911, Green hopes to not only reduce response times, but also improve customer service that residents get when they make the call.
“We get several complaints of citizens that are complaining of being spoken to rudely on the phone, being put on hold,” Green said.
But he said if the police department is in charge of 911, they’ll be the ones answering the phones and making the judgment calls about where to direct police.
“We’ll have a supervisor there at the 911 center, and if a call goes out, the sergeant has the authority to say, ‘Pull car one and send them to that call,'” Green said. “If we have more control, that will improve customer service, improve the relationship between us and the community because right now, citizens complain about 911. They think it’s actually us, when it’s not.”
There will be another budget hearing on Monday, April 18, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to go over the budget for the Mayor’s Office/Administration.