Flint, MI–In three weeks, the city of Flint will have a new police chief…but no one knows who that might be yet.
Flint Police Chief Phil Hart is running for Genesee County Sheriff, but win or lose, his term as police chief expires Aug. 10. If he loses the election, Hart said he won’t be staying on as chief.
Mayor Sheldon Neeley will have to appoint someone to the position, which the city council would then vote to approve (or not). Hart said he has no information on who his replacement is going to be.
“When he’s elected sheriff, we’ll move forward with a strong replacement for him. I can’t divulge all that, but we do have a plan,” Neeley said.
This change in leadership comes at a time when gun violence in the city is on the rise.
According to the Michigan State Police Department, as of July 19, in Flint, non-fatal shootings are up 126.3% year-to-date, and fatal shootings are up 53.3% year-to-date.
Former Police Chief Tim Johnson, who is also running for county sheriff, spoke about the increase in violent crime at a press conference last Friday.
Johnson said the heat and COVID-19 were not to blame–Hart was.
“Those police officers in that police department are well capable of policing the city,” he said. “The leadership is where the problem is.”
Neeley appointed Hart as interim police chief on Nov. 11, 2019 following Johnson’s resignation. On Feb. 10, the Flint City Council approved a resolution to drop ‘interim’ from his title and appoint Hart as police chief.
“It’s almost a slap in the citizens’ face to know that you got an individual over there who has nerve enough to be running for sheriff when this city is in such a disarray and he’s sitting at the top right now and he’s not doing a doggone thing about it,” Johnson said. “If you can’t run the city and stop the crime in the city, how are you going to stop it at the county level?”
Hart said the rise in crime has nothing to do with his leadership.
“If it’s my leadership, then why is it like this across the nation? If you look at places like New York and Chicago, crime is up overall,” Hart said. “Overall, our crime is down in Flint, it’s the shootings that are up and we can attribute a lot of that to people who should be in jail but because of COVID-19 are out.”
Shooting incidents are up 60.9% year-to-date in New York and 46% in Chicago. However, Genesee County Captain Jason Gould said the rise in crime in Flint is unrelated to the release of inmates due to COVID-19.
Gould said people who commit violent crimes are all still in jail, along with any crimes against a person, DUIs, and parole violations. Released inmates were, as per Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order, those who did not pose safety risks, such as people incarcerated for a traffic violation or failure to appear in court, he said..
Gould said any inmate released was released on a court order.
Hart said the Flint Police Department will continue “working together with partner agencies to keep a handle on the criminal element going on here in the city of Flint.”
At a press conference Tuesday, Neeley and Hart announced a three-point plan to fight crime in Flint.
The first point is the formation of a Special Investigative Unit focused on proactive policing to use predictive information and intelligence to stop crime and also get illegal guns off the street.
Hart said many of the people being chosen for this unit have already been trained so they could get to work on implementing this unit right away. Neeley said they could not say the number of officers that would be in this unit but that they “have the personnel.”
The second point is the recruitment of Flint residents to fill vacant officer positions. Neeley said they will raise the rate of pay for new officers coming in and give them more vacation time.
The last point is the launch of a gun buyback program where citizens can bring in guns in exchange for money, no questions asked. Citizens will receive $50 for long guns and $100 for handguns. Neeley said the money for the program is coming from “philanthropic partners.”
The dates, times, and locations of the gun buyback events are yet to be determined.
Neeley said that even under a new police chief, “the activities inside the police department…and the partnerships will continue.”