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Stretched LPD backs second millage attempt

Police car photo
File photo
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The Lansing Police Department hopes city residents will approve a millage proposal this November that will help fund police activities. WKAR File Photo

By Kevin Lavery, WKAR News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wkar/local-wkar-988230.mp3

Lansing, MI – This week, the Lansing Police Department received some welcome news. A more than $2 million federal grant will allow the city to retain 11 officers who'd been laid off earlier this year. But the department's finances are still far from secure. In November, Lansing will again ask residents to pass a millage increase - the same measure that voters narrowly defeated in May.

WKAR's Kevin Lavery spoke with Lansing police chief Teresa Szymanski about how her department has been faring this year.

TERESA SZYMANSKI: We're managing. As of July 1, 2011, we laid off 36 police officers here in the city of Lansing. That's the first time as far as I know in the history of the Lansing Police Department we've ever had to lay off officers; and certainly, Kevin, that was the most difficult thing that I've had to do here in my almost 25 years at the police department.

Since then, we've re-organized again. As I think many people know, we are shutting the doors at the south precinct and moving up to the north precinct. We saw a reduction in our motorcycle unit, we saw a reduction in our neighborhood watch, we also saw a reduction in our undercover unit. And people are probably thinking, well, how does that affect us? And what you're going to see is things like, if you don't have undercover officers out there, if you don't have them doing proactive work -- making drug deals, which allows us to conduct raids, which allows us to shut down houses -- that stuff starts to wear at you. We're not as proactive; we're being more reactive.

KEVIN LAVERY: As of this week there is some good news for the Lansing Police Department in the form of a recent federal grant. Can you tell us about that a little bit?

SZYMANSKI: Excellent news, Kevin. The federal government awarded us a grant on Wednesday to the tune of over $2 million. That will allow us to rehire 11 laid-off police officers. Three of them will be assigned to the schools and rest will be out in our community. That's exciting news, both for the department and the community to have some of our officers back.

LAVERY: Does this new development in any way diminish the need for a city-wide millage? The city is going to be putting that back on the ballot on November 8.

SZYMANSKI: Absolutely not. The passing of the millage is critical, and that's still a priority that we must get that done.

LAVERY: The city of Lansing is facing a projected deficit for the coming fiscal year of anywhere between $12 million and $15 million. If the millage passes, the Lansing Police Department will get about $4.8 million. Are you hearing anything, Chief, from residents that would tell you that the community's will power has changed since then, or are they simply saying that we just can't afford it again because the economy is no better than in was back in May?

SZYMANSKI: I'm hearing both at this time. I'm hearing some folks say boy, we just can't afford it but we can really see that you need it. A lot of folks have said to me, you know, Chief, this is not against the police department, the fire department or the roads. It's not against the city at all. We don't have the money to support it. It's not that we don't love you, we don't care about you or we appreciate you. We just don't have the money.

But then again, I've heard a lot of people say, we can see the need. We can feel the pain, the suffering that's going on. And we want to have a safe, vibrant community and we have a healthy respect for law enforcement, the fire department and certainly we want good roads. So, there's a lot of positive feedback out there also.

LAVERY: What do you do in a situation like that to mount a successful enough public campaign that really convinces someone that yes, it's going to hurt me a little bit financially, but it's something that I really have to do for the sake of my own protection and my neighbor's protection?

SZYMANSKI: That's the personal touch. It's us getting out there talking to people, engaging people, listening to their stories and us telling them what we do, what we can do and where we're at, and the importance of the partnerships with the community.

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