Amid the many political distractions associated with a city in crisis, a financial advisory board, and with the appointment of an emergency manager looming, it is easy to lose track of the main purpose of city government: the health, safety and well-being of its citizens.
When faced with incredible fiscal challenges, then, is time to re-examine priorities and get back to the basics. That means focusing on public safety and making the necessary investments to ensure the safety and security of every Detroiter, while leadership works to fix other issues that are core to city's charter-mandated services.
And public safety goes far beyond law enforcement. It includes all first responders who are responsible for a safe and secure Detroit. Police, fire, EMS and the city's 911 dispatch are priority areas for the mission of ensuring the health, security and well-being of city residents. And under extreme financial circumstances, we have fallen short of making these critical investments.
The Detroit Police Department is woefully understaffed and officers are not assigned in the most efficient way to lead to a reduction in crime. Moving every sworn officer out of administrative roles and onto patrol is a step in the right direction. However, the vast majority of homicides in Detroit are associated with gangs and drugs. Therefore, the elimination of gang squad and downsizing the narcotics division to make up for inadequate staffing levels is not a solid fix. The hiring of more officers has to be part of the crime reduction equation in Detroit, notably at this point in time when officers are retiring at a faster rate due to the retirement benefit changes.
Firefighters not only lack the personnel needed to protect the public, but also the equipment. We have continued to cut firefighters, from 1,500 to 600, from 60 companies each night, to 40. Our response time is moving in the wrong direction, closing in on violating state and federal standards, which are a result of "browning out" companies. Aerial ladders haven't been tested in 10 years, despite annual inspection requirements. So instead of making sure they are safe and secure for use, we have placed them out of service. These are investments that must be made.
It has been highly publicized that maintenance issues has left EMS with only 10 units to cover the entire 140 square miles of Detroit. The rest are sitting at city garages awaiting repairs.
Our dispatch is probably in the best shape from an operational standpoint. Operators are receiving the critical training that they need. But what good is dispatch when there are not enough units on the street to dispatch? No training can help a dispatcher make the split-second decision to prioritize one citizen's critical emergency over another when there is only one car and two calls at the same time. Who gets priority when someone is threatened with a gun versus someone being threatened with a knife? It is not fair to Detroiters, and it is not fair to the dispatcher. Beyond that, this scenario is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
We further increase Detroiters' safety and sense of security by advancing the mission of the newly-created Public Lighting Authority to get the streetlights on, and by addressing the blight with a stronger demolition plan using state and federal funds. Any mayoral administration's public safety plan needs to include these elements.
The City of Detroit, and our region for that matter, will never reach a transformation until people feel safe. Safe from crime, and the peace of mind knowing that if a family member experiences an emergency that trained professionals are on the way to assist. In order to get there, we must make public safety a priority, and invest in it as such.