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Flint police department and the mayor: Part 2 of 2

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Flint police department and the mayor: Part 2 of 2

By Richard Zowie

We heard last week from “Jack”, a Flint Police Department officer regarding his thoughts on the police department and how it’s faring among the current tough economic times.

Jack suggested that, for further information, I direct some questions to Flint Police Sergeant’s Association president Rick Hetherington.

Sergeant Hetherington, who’s been with the FPD since 1998, has been pretty busy in his career: 12 years working undercover in narcotics, two years in the gang squad, four years in the detective bureau and the rest of the time in the patrol bureau.

In other words, a pretty good person to ask about the police department and how it pertains to the mayor’s office.

Richard Zowie: From your observation along with your opinion, what was the department’s opinion of former mayor Don Williamson?

Rick Hetherington: My opinion is that Mr. Williamson attempted to destroy the morale of the police department and undermine its effectiveness. He made a mockery of the rank structure and had no regard for contractual constraints on his administration.

RZ: From your observation along with your opinion, what was the department’s reaction when Dayne Walling was elected as mayor?

RH: The department held high hopes when Mr. Walling was elected mayor. The department expected that Mr. Walling would by an ally and that we would work together to reduce crime and the deficit of the city.

RZ: How difficult and dangerous is it for Flint police to do their job on a very tight budget with fewer officers?

RH: It is becoming increasingly difficult for the department to function at the current staffing levels. The mayor, through the chief, has decimated the patrol bureau and shifted the majority of the remaining officer to the COPS program or foot patrol. This leaves very few officers to actually respond to 911 calls on a daily basis. The chief has said publicly that there are always 12-16 officers working on each shift. This is a flat-out fabrication. The CAD (computer aided dispatch) system reflects the current officer availability and pending calls. It is not unusual to see a maximum of nine to 10 officers working and available and a low of three to six officers working and available. The pending calls for service can range from five to 40 and these numbers are during dayshift hours when call volumes are lower.

The Flint Police Department has been extremely fortunate that it has not had more officers killed in the line of duty. In the last 43 years there have been three officers killed in the line of duty and all three were the result of traffic accidents. How more officers have not been killed by violent acts is unexplainable. A police officer’s instincts have him rush into situations that others flee from. The reduced staffing levels and increased wait times for back up will escalate the chances that an officer could find him/herself in a potentially life threatening situation with little or no back up. This is obviously not a good position to be in.

RZ: Overall, what do you think of Walling as a mayor?

RH: I believe that Walling has exhibited himself to be a very dumb smart guy. At times it appears that he listens to no one’s advice. His actions and thought processes seem to be based on theory and hyperbole. Relating this to the police department, there is no argument that foot patrol programs can be very effective. When the FPD originally established their foot patrol program in 1978, it was the model program for the entire nation. In the first year crime rates fell 8 percent, and in the first three years calls for service fell 43 percent. These are obviously significant numbers. The difference is that during that time there were 64 foot patrol officers assigned to patrol 20 percent of the city and there were over 300 officers total. Now we have 18 foot patrol officers assigned to patrol 100 percent of the city split over two shifts, and we have just over 100 officers. The crime rate is also much higher now than it was in 1978.

The point is, these officers would be much more effectively utilized if they were mobile and available to respond to calls for service city wide. If he would take more input from employees with varying amounts of time in the various positions he would be able to get a better understanding of the requirements for effectiveness.

RZ: What kind of mayor do you feel would be best for the city of Flint?

RH: I believe the city needs a mayor (or a city manager) who is no nonsense and business based, but has the intellect to implement wide ranging cost saving plans. This person also needs to possess a high degree of self discipline and an understanding of the differences involved in public sector employment. Ed Kurtz effectively eliminated $24 million of a $32 million dollar deficit in 18 months. He was no nonsense and had a solid grasp on the things necessary to cut the deficit without slashing city services.

RZ: Finally, I’ve been told that virtually all of the police work second jobs to make ends meet. How common is this in law enforcement?

RH: It is very common. Most officers work a second job and those that don’t are usually married to someone who makes a very good living. There are others who supplement their income by working as much overtime as they possibly can. (A different form of a second job).

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Mt. Morris/Clio and Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald. Visit his blog at www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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