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This is the second in a three-part series by Flint Beat exploring each of the city’s elements of their plan to combat gun violence. In each installment of the series, Flint Beat will take an in-depth, expert- and data-driven analysis to see what residents can expect as Flint police carry out their plan. See our first installment in the series here.
Flint, MI–One night last month, the Flint Police Department received 376 calls for service with only six cars out on the shift.
Just under half of the calls were answered.
Former Police Chief Phil Hart said that was because the department is understaffed, with more than 14 positions that have been vacant for over two years.
“Part of the issue is the lower level of pay,” Hart said as to why the department was struggling to fill the positions. “We’ve gotten people trained through the academy and before they even start with us, they’ve left and gone to other agencies because the pay is better.”
That’s about to change.
On July 21, Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced a three-part plan to combat crime in the city. One part of that plan is filling the vacant positions with diverse, highly qualified officers, through recruitment efforts including raising officer’s starting salaries.
Since then, the city has gotten more than 200 applications, more than they’ve gotten in years.
The announcement came at a time where violent crime in Flint is on the rise, and thousands of people throughout the country are protesting police brutality, systemic racism, and the role of police in society.
But in a city like Flint, where police presence is low and violent crime is on the rise, Neeley said residents want more officers.
“People said we need more police officers, we need more funding,” Neeley said. “The first goal is that we fill these vacancies that have been vacant for some time far beyond the time I’ve been around.”
In an effort to attract officers, the administration updated police officer contracts in April, raising the starting hourly rate for an officer from $17.26 to $19.43.
The starting hourly translates to an annual salary of $40,429. Their hourly pay increases each year to $20.51, $21.63, $24.00, $25.50, $27.31, $28.05 and then $29.50 in their 8th year for an annual salary of $61,360.
The city will also pay a salary of $11.25 hourly or $23,400 annually, to officers in the police academy, in addition to covering their tuition and fees.
“In less than one month since announcing our recruitment initiative, the City of Flint has made seven hires in the Flint Police Department,” Neeley said. “That is a remarkable achievement and I want to thank the team for coming together to help address this long-standing public safety deficit.”
Five of the new hires are Flint Police Department recruits who will attend the fall academy at Mott Community College. The other two hires are already certified police officers.
“We are quickly making progress and we will continue hiring so that we can soon fill all these vacancies with top-notch professionals committed to serving and protecting the residents of the city of Flint,” Neeley said.
Research shows that when it comes to police departments, it’s not just about quantity.
A study done by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found that an increase in officers is not associated with a decrease in violent crime.
In one year, the size of their police force was increased by 7.2%.
Researchers found that one additional officer prevented about “1.4 thefts, 0.36 motor vehicle thefts and 1.8 property crimes each month” but “found that there was no reduction in violent crime caused by the increase in police numbers.”
But Neeley doesn’t want just any officers–he’s looking for people who know Flint.
In the book Training the 21st Century Police Officer: Redefining Police Professionalism for the Los Angeles Police Department, the authors write that community policing “helps develop better relationships and mutual understanding between police officers and community members, which in turn help in solving community problems.”
“Community policing is at the core of our efforts. Before we can even begin to address the big issues, we have to make sure our foundation is solid,” Neeley said. “Unfortunately, we had some long-standing issues that needed to be addressed first — including settling police contracts, hiring more officers, and naming a highly qualified permanent police chief to lead the team.”
Neeley appointed Terence Green to be the new Flint police chief on Aug. 12. Green was born and raised in Flint.
“I would prefer that officers are familiar with the area but that’s not always possible. I’m from this area so I know the streets of the city of Flint,” Green said.
Even if the officers eventually hired are not from Flint, according to the city’s job postings, police officers must “maintain residency within 20 miles of the nearest boundary of the City of Flint.”
Senior Counselor of The National Police Foundation and retired police chief Dean Esserman has implemented community policing strategies in four cities in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Esserman described community policing as a philosophy that has been evolving since the 1970s and emphasizes collaboration between police and the community to co-produce priorities.
“In the old days, police prioritized crime first and quality of life later,” Esserman said. “Oftentimes, day-to-day quality of life issues is what bothers people the most. Loud kids, gambling at the end of the block, speeding cars.”
Esserman said community policing requires officers to talk to people in the community to find out what the problems are in each neighborhood and prioritize solving those problems with the community.
But that requires having enough officers.
“It absolutely takes more police officers to do. Cops count,” Esserman said. “And the community embraces that if they see them working on the problems the community wants them to work on, and gets to know them.”
He said communities get frustrated with a lack of visibility and communication, but support building police departments when they see a difference being made.
In addition to working to fill the vacant positions, Neeley recently announced some initiatives that promote community involvement.
One is a partnership with Crime Stoppers to fight blight, where residents can submit anonymous tips about illegal dumping and get paid cash if the tip leads to an arrest.
The mayor also announced that the city would be partnering with local promoters to organize safe parties and events in response to gun violence at an illegal pop-up party.
Esserman said the organization of safer parties is a great example of community policing.
“Instead of trying to stop it, they’re coming up with creative solution to solve the problem,” he said. “Police get to be part of the process then.”
Case studies show that building bonds between the police and the community has positive effects.
Camden, New Jersey dissolved its city police department eight years ago and replaced it with a countywide police force with an emphasis on community policing.
An article from CNN stated that Camden used to be one of the most violent cities in the United States, but since the change, “the crime rate has dropped from 79 per 1,000 to 44 per 1,000.”
Camden leaders believe that drop is due to community-oriented policing that starts from an officer’s first day.
The article states that “when a new recruit joins the force, they’re required to knock on the doors of homes in the neighborhood they’re assigned to patrol,” and ask people what they think needs improving.
Esserman said one of the most important tools he’s given to his officers is a cell phone in addition to their walkie-talkie.
“Instead of calling 911, people will call their beat cop if they know them by name,” he said. “That should be encouraged.”
According to an article from NPR, many officers in the Camden police department were rehired, but they “each had to complete a 50-page application, retake psychological testing and go through an interview process.”
They have also hired Black and brown officers to better represent the racial makeup of the city.
Neeley said he wants the police department “to look like the community they’re policing,” and Green echoed that sentiment at a press conference.
“As the chief of police, my goal…is to be an integral part of the community. We need the community to be successful,” he said. “Diversity definitely will help bridge the gap between police and the community.”
Esserman also said that local hiring and diversity are important efforts.
According to U.S. Census data from 2019, the population in Flint is 53.7% Black, 39.7% White, 3.9% Hispanic or Latino, 0.5% American Indian and 0.3% Asian.
Right now, the Flint Police Department’s racial makeup is 53.7% White, 41.1% Black, 4.1% Hispanic and 1.1% Asian.
For reference, Black police officers only make up about 16% of New York’s police department and 25% of Chicago’s police department.
1999, the United Kingdom government created 10-year targets to diversify the police department and recruit officers from ethnic minorities.
A study of the effects of this policy found “an increase in the share of ethnic minority officers in a given force is associated with a decrease in the number of crimes in the area under the force’s jurisdiction during the 10‐year period.”
The author of the study, an Underwood Distinguished Professor whose research is focused on achieving efficient public administration, wrote that “police representativeness is associated with a decrease in the overrepresentation of black individuals among those subject to “stop and search.”
Additionally, if citizens feel represented by their police, the author wrote that they might feel “more willing to cooperate in the coproduction of public values,” like having a safe, clean city.
Neeley said “keeping these positions vacant was simply unacceptable.”
“The residents of the City of Flint deserve better and this administration is making it a priority to make sure our residents get the service they deserve,” he said.