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Tudor Dixon pitches $1B plan to boost Michigan police

tudor dixon at press conference
Tudor Dixon says public safety is a “top issue” in her gubernatorial campaign (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Tudor Dixon’s $1B plan includes $700M to help recruit, retain police officers
  • The GOP nominee argues Gretchen Whitmer has not done enough to support law enforcement
  • Violent crime spiked in 2020 and inched up again in 2021

GRAND RAPIDS — Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon wants to put $1 billion into public safety efforts over the next four years to help thwart a reported rise in violent crime in Michigan.

Dixon announced her "building a safer state strategy" Tuesday in Grand Rapids. She urged voters to reject politicians like Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who she said have either "ignored or enabled the problem" and "turned their backs” on police officers who “everyday have our back."

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Dixon's proposal — the first major initiative she's unveiled since winning the GOP primary on Aug. 3 — includes $700 million to help local agencies recruit and retain police officers, firefighters and other public safety personnel.

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The four-year plan would be paid for using some of the state’s nearly $6 billion general fund surplus, according to lieutenant governor nominee Shane Hernandez. The former House Republican budget chairman joined Dixon at Tuesday’s press event.

The plan would address officer shortages that law enforcement groups backing Dixon said make it hard to hire personnel, particularly amid a national racial justice movement that has sparked protests against police brutality.

Dixon said she would work with the Legislature to create a new "move to Michigan" incentive to attract public safety personnel from other states, help them pay for required instruction, support youth job-shadow programs and provide marketing grants to help local departments promote their job openings.

The Norton Shores Republican stressed recently released police statistics showing that violent crime in Michigan jumped 12.4 percent in 2020 and inched up three-tenths of a percentage point in 2021.

"Let me be clear, we will never defund the police," Dixon told reporters during a press conference held across the street from the Grand Rapids Police Department, which came under fire in April when an officer fatally shot Congolese refugee Patrick Lyoya during a struggle following a traffic stop.

"We need to fight back, and we need and will ask for all of the help of all of our law enforcement professionals,” Dixon said. “We know if we are going to get violent crime under control, we are going to need more police to do it."

Dixon's plan includes another $250 million to help public safety departments pay for equipment and training, including de-escalation instruction, along with $50 million to speed up forensic evidence analysis and track down offenders who have fled the jurisdiction where they committed an alleged crime.

Dixon — standing beside a campaign sign to "stop Whitmer's violent crime wave" — did not name specific policy disagreements with the Democratic incumbent, who has increased total public safety funding during her first term. 

But Dixon blasted Whitmer for saying in 2020 that she supported the "spirit" of the defund police movement, which seeks to redirect resources into community and mental health support programs. 

Dixon also criticized Whitmer for vetoing $13 million in secondary road patrol funding in 2019, amid a budget fight with GOP leaders. The two sides later struck a deal and restored that funding. 

"Gretchen Whitmer has failed to do her job," Dixon said.

In a statement, Whitmer campaign spokesperson Maeve Coyle said the governor is "committed to working with anyone to reduce crime.” She criticized Dixon's separate proposal to phase out the state’s personal income tax, arguing it would siphon state funds used to support law enforcement.

“As a former prosecutor, public safety is a top priority for Gov. Whitmer. She has worked across the aisle to support law enforcement with the tools they need to keep Michiganders safe, including increased resources to hire more police and strengthen training," Coyle said.

Dixon's $1 billion proposal dwarfs the $75 million "MI Safe Communities" proposal that Whitmer unveiled last year, which included $32 million for officer retention and recruitment, training, mental health programs and grants to hire violent crime investigators.

House Republicans had proposed their own $250 million public safety plan, but Whitmer and GOP leaders were unable to strike a deal and did not fund either initiative in the $76.9 billion state budget deal they reached in June. 

The budget for the upcoming fiscal year does include $11 million in new funding for community policing grants, along with $9.2 million for a state police trooper recruit school expected to graduate 50 additional officers. 

Under Whitmer, the annual state police budget increased from $716 million to $824 million, according to non-partisan legislative fiscal agencies. Annual revenue sharing that helps local governments pay for public safety and other services rose $253 million.

Dixon’s press conference, her first since her primary victory, came less than two months until the general election and less than two weeks before absentee ballots will be sent to voters. 

Crime is “an extremely important issue for our state,” Dixon said. “We feel it is our top issue, because if we cannot keep our communities safe, we can’t keep people here.”

Recently released Michigan crime data shows a 30-percent increase in the number of murders between 2017 and 2021, along with a 23-percent increase in aggravated assaults. Police departments have reported fewer robberies and rapes, however, and property crime has declined each of the past five years.

While law enforcement officials nationwide have publicly bemoaned their struggles to fill job openings, the extent of officer shortages is unclear in Michigan. Counts compiled by the state are incomplete because some agencies routinely or sporadically fail to report data. 

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In 2019, the 547 Michigan police agencies that reported data to the state employed a combined 18,068 officers, according to the latest tally. Last year, the 533 agencies that reported data had a combined 17,874 officers. That's 194 fewer officers, but with 14 fewer departments reporting.

The Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police has estimated more than a 1,000 officers across the state have left their jobs since 2020, and forces from Oakland County and Detroit to Eaton and Kalamazoo counties have described the staffing situation as a crisis.

Critics contend that Dixon’s plan to phase out Michigan’s personal income tax will jeopardize the state’s ability to pay for services, like public safety. The Republican nominee said she wants to start by cutting the tax rate from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent, which would save taxpayers more than $1 billion a year but reduce state revenues by the same amount.

The Democratic Governors Association ran anti-Dixon attack ads in late July suggesting her "dangerous budget plan" could slash $500 million in police funding and force officer layoffs.

She called the claims "complete baloney" and "absolute bull."

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