Bad enough that budget bickering between Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council puts the city at risk of receivership. But because the city administration has not ruled out cuts to police personnel, public safety is placed in jeopardy.
The mayor and the council are threatening to gut services, including cutting police ranks, unless the police and other employee unions agree to health and pension concessions. Perhaps some judicious adjustments in police personnel are in order. Too many officers have cushy desk jobs and too few are in crime-ridden neighborhoods. If the police unions want to protect jobs, they too will have to face fiscal reality and get those officers back on beats.
The responsibility for controlling the high levels of crime and protecting citizens is within Mayor Bing’s authority. As chief administrator, his job is to assess the police department’s crime prevention efforts and determine whether management and deployment of the existing forces effectively serve the public interest. It may be that a comprehensive evaluation will find that fewer cops can be more effective crime fighters. But the first significant step should be a stepped up strategy highlighted by street-level community oriented enforcement that goes beyond responding to incidents and making police reports.
Though Detroit’s overall crime rate has decreased in recent months, the crime orgy remains a fact of life and death in Detroit.
Neighborhood residents aren’t cringing behind security doors because of some mysterious fear-induced phobia. The social and economic fabric of neighborhoods is not being destroyed by a crime fairy tale. In regards to the protection of human life and safety, there can be no compromises or trade-offs.
It’s true that the police payroll eats up a huge share of the general fund budget. Police ranks, though, have already been depleted. There are levels of police protection where it doesn’t make sense to put dollars ahead of safety and lives. More cuts that reduce police ranks and stretch the department’s ability to beef-up police patrols will result in more distressed neighborhoods that become even more fertile ground for youthful offenders and predators.
City officials have collectively shown a great talent for talking about taking a bite out of crime. It’s time to match that rhetoric with dollars and decisions that make cops and crime reduction the city’s top priority. Reducing the ranks of police officers should be the budget option of last, not first, resort.
The challenge for city government is to come up with ways to do more for the people of Detroit with less. Hard-to-come by employee concessions is not the only way to cap soaring costs in health care and pension benefits and forestall a mushrooming deficit that already exceed $150 million. There are lots of others, including competitively bidding certain services. The apparent unwillingness of city budget cutters to outsource services or make eliminating nonessential programs part of a serious discussion is a failure of political will.
If the mayor and council are only playing hardball with the police unions, it’s a risky game to play. Treating police officers as pawns in a budgetary game can only further demoralize the rank and file.
Unless crime is brought under some kind of reasonable control, there will be no revitalization, no renaissance. Unless reason and prudence prevail inside City Hall, municipal insolvency and an emergency financial manager will inevitably be the next reform option on the table. Detroit will continue to be best known for a heightened climate of fear, and desertion by residents who stared political incompetence in the face and rebelled with their feet.