Michigan pays 18% less per citizen than nat'l average for public safety

One of the most basic functions of government is to protect citizens and ensure public safety. But a series of budget reductions has eroded funding for public safety in Michigan, making that basic tenet of government more difficult.

Violent crime in Michigan has mirrored national trends and declined dramatically in recent years. But as with most other industries, public safety officers are being asked to do more with less, as cities receive have fewer dollars to pay for police and fire protection. That’s led some to fear that the state is stretched thin and could have trouble responding to an uptick in violent crime.

The facts on crime rates

Between 2007 and 2016, the number of violent crimes statewide fell 23 percent. Since the 1980s, the violent crime rate has fallen by nearly half statewide. There are exceptions. Even though rates have declined, cities such as Detroit, Flint and Saginaw consistently rank as among the most dangerous in the nation.

The number of house fires has declined by nearly half in both Michigan and the United States since the 1980s. Statewide, Michigan’s death rate from fires – 10.4 deaths per 100,000 residents – was a hair lower than the national average of 10.5 per 100,000, according to federal stats.

Related overage from our 2018 Michigan Issue Guide

The facts on public safety spending

Michigan spends $1,513 per resident paying for public safety, according to data from the Urban Institute. That’s less than Midwestern states such as Ohio, Minnesota and Illinois, and 18 percent less than the national average of $1,843 per resident.

That’s largely the result of state cuts and declining property values that have reduced  budgets of municipalities, which fund police and fire service.

That means there are fewer police officers and firefighters. Statewide, there were about 23,000 law enforcement employees in 2014. That’s 1 for every 426 residents over the age of 18 - well below the national average of 1 for every 298 residents.

The police who remain are stretched thin. In Michigan. They handled an average of 28 property violent crimes apiece in 2014, which topped the nation in the most recent year federal statistics are available.

How local communities are responding

Necessity is the mother of invention – and cities have gotten creative to address the decreased funding. In the past 15 years, dozens of cities have closed fire stations and rethought how they deliver services. Communities from Kent to Macomb counties have merged departments, regionalized emergency dispatch services, cross-trained officers and switched to “blended fire departments” staffed by both on-call and full-time firefighters.

And it’s not just local governments. In 2012, the Michigan State Police underwent a dramatic reorganization, reducing the number of posts statewide to 29 from 62 to save nearly $18 million.

Looking ahead

Even though the economy is improving, no one expects funding to local municipalities to return to previous levels anytime soon. So creativity remains the name of the game for law enforcement agencies.

In Detroit, for instance, police have partnered with gas stations on Project Green Light, a program in which businesses pay for lighting and cameras that are monitored 24-7 by police. The program has been shown to dramatically decrease crime.

The downside of such programs? You guessed it. They cost money.

KEEP DIGGING: MORE INFORMATION ON MICHIGAN PUBLIC SAFETY

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