Claiming that Detroit is facing a public safety emergency, representatives from the Board of Police Commissioners urged Detroit City Council Thursday to put a five-year public safety millage on the November ballot to stem further cuts to the police department.
The five-member Board of Police Commissioners, which is appointed by the mayor and approved by city council, provides citizen oversight to Detroit's police force.
It is opposing austerity measures that would cut about 380 officers from the force -- most of them through attrition resulting from early retirements.
Mayor Dave Bing has proposed about $250 million in across the board staff cuts in order to balance the city's budget and pay down the city's debt, conditions of the the city's financial consent agreement with the state of Michigan.
"Right now we're dealing with an emergency in our department," Rev. Jerome Warfield of the Board of Police Commissioners told city council. "We are stretched beyond our limits right now."
Warfield told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that inadequate staffing levels made it difficult to support officers out on the field. "It's critical not only for the citizens. It's dangerous for our officers" he said.
"Instead of cutting we need to look at raising revenue in a public safety millage format that would allow us to have the correct number of officers in each neighborhood," he added.
At the hearing, Warfield estimated an additional 9 mils would cost an owner of a $50,000 home about $225 a year.
None of the council members explicitly opposed the millage, but several expressed concerns.
Council Member Andre Spivey worried taxpayers would have no guarantee that the money would be used efficiently.
"We need to be asking what are you doing with this money," he said. "If we don't see a change in crime fighting, they're stuck paying the millage."
Noting that Detroiters already pay the highest property taxes in the state, Council Member Ken Cockrel, Jr., suggested a new millage might drive middle-class residents from the city.
Council Member Kwame Kenyatta suggested that council stay open to alternative revenue-generating strategies, such as the creation of a city lottery to help fund police and fire departments.
At the hearing, Warfield also defended a budget request for eight additional investigators, claiming that the the commission was currently backlogged with police investigations and in danger of violating a federal mandate designed to curb abusive police behavior.
In order to cope with shrinking revenues, the Detroit Police Department implemented a practice known as "virtual precincts" earlier this year that put more officers on the street but relies on a phone call center to handle many citizen interactions.
And it seems the department has come up with another plan to swell its ranks while shrinking its budget. Following the Thursday City Council hearing, Mayor Bing and Police Chief Ralph Godbee announced a new "enhanced reserve program" for police officers, similar to an Army Reserve program.
"Reservists are not new to Detroit," Godbee explained. "They have a very rich tradition, a rich history. What we haven't done is paid a lot of attention to bolstering those ranks."
The new program will offer incentives for retired officers and recent police academy graduates to join DPD's reserve program. Godbee said reserve officers will help with special events and supplement precinct officers. DPD expects to recruit between 200 and 250 officers, and already has 30 reservists ready to go.
"We have a ready pool of people who have expressed a desire to be a Detroit police officer, but in times when we are not hiring, we need to leverage that energy and desire," said Godbee.
Simone Landon contributed to this report.
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