DETROIT - One of the more frustrating things metro Detroit has been host to for at least the last decade is major news conferences called by state and local leaders to announce the next great transformative plan or program.
They gin up lots of excitement, promise big results, garner terrific support from those partisans attending the event and then NOTHING happened!
Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was infamous for that. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm held her own in this department as well.
So, on Wednesday, when Gov. Rick Snyder held his own major news conference to address the crime problem in Flint, the expectations were low considering that lackluster track record of talking a problem to death.
Many of Michigan's cities continue crumbling under the weight of blight and violent crime while the talkers simply keep talking. If you've seen our ugly headlines over the past month, it's clearly time to stop the lip flap and do something.
Snyder took his turn. Inside Flint City Hall, which is now inhabited by one of the much maligned emergency managers, pointed out how four Michigan cities are in the FBI's top ten violent crime list.
Driving north on Interstate-75: Detroit, Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw.
Now, the governor made it clear when I sat down with him in his New Center office late Wednesday afternoon, he does not want this to become an I-75 problem, he wants to change the thought process and call his plan "successful cities," ever the adherent to his "positive forward movement every day" mantra [that is likely already an annoying slogan heard often in the state executive offices]. But, the governor is nothing if not earnest!
He truly believes in thinking that way and when he rolled out his plan at his news conference he cited statistics like homicide rates in just the aforementioned cities are costing Michigan taxpayers $1.6 billion a year; a staggering number we've not heard before.
The governor appears perfectly willing to state the problem but also quantify it without worrying about the political ramifications. He says decisions in law enforcement will be data driven, but more than anything, he believes public safety is not just about cops.
Yes, he will pump millions of dollars in to the MSP to put 180 new troopers on the street. The first academy will start in June. Many of those cops will find themselves working the streets of Detroit along with FBI agents and DPD. The governor believes Michigan law enforcement is a generation behind in technology. We won't be NCIS any time soon, but he is going to hire 20 new forensic scientists to work in a new Lansing lab processing crime scene evidence from cities like Detroit. He will also hold evidence collection schools for local police to improve their skills. This is just the beginning.
The governor doesn't believe crime happens in a vacuum. He points out most prisoners are in jail directly or indirectly due to substance abuse. He wants to attack that not through criminal charges alone but special drug courts in Detroit, Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw that will look to alternative solutions than jail. He also believes crime is the result of a lack of jobs and wants to get non-profits like Focus Hope involved in helping getting job growth in blighted areas. The governor also told us in our interview he believes abandoned property, a major problem in Detroit, is something he needs to address. So he's going to propose legislation that would prevent those cited for blighted property or if you have not paid your property taxes from being eligible to bid on foreclosed property. These are decidedly outside the box ideas. If you want to see the whole 34 program plan we have linked to it here.
Still, let's not get too excited; remember where we started.
Politicians around here talk a lot to generate headlines and don't worry so much about getting results. It's all nice if you propose this stuff, but will you follow through? As of now we don't have the answer to that with Snyder and won't for at least six months to a year.
But, there is hope.
I say this because of what I was told by Detroit's most important law enforcement officers. Both Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said they spent a lot of time with the governor's staff talking about possible solutions. Expecting the usual crying in the wilderness they've become used to, they were both buoyed by the fact the governor included their ideas in his plan. Both said that's a first!
Worthy said, "This is the first time I've ever had a governor of a state devote resources to such an extent to law enforcement. I'm not saying other governors didn't help but as a whole umbrella organization we worked very closely with some of his people and I'm glad to hear some of the ideas come into the fold."
Godbee said, "I have long said public safety is not just a police issue so to hear from the state level that type of validation to the message we've been trying to say all along and then to get the requisite support to go with those things, I think is very encouraging and promising."
So let's get this straight, Detroit law enforcement, decidedly partisan in the past, weary of undelivered promises, believes this governor might just be different this time. Godbee is excited at the governor's notion of using data to drive decision making.
He said, "Gov. Snyder is the first that I have heard of who very specifically says take a look at the data, very specifically talking about some major urban centers."
Worthy admitted she's still going to wait for the jury to come in, but even the slightest note of optimism is a huge and positive development. She said, "It's a new day if everything's acted upon and he has guaranteed that's going to happen. So yes, we've been saying since time and memorial that if you don't have a safe community very little good is possible and it's something I've said since 2004 when I first became the Wayne County Prosecutor. This is a big step in the right direction if there is appropriate follow through."
The governor believes reinventing Michigan means reinventing public safety. His is a big plan with lots of big ideas.
Detroit has seen some of its most particularly heinous violent crime in recent weeks, especially involving teenagers running rampant with very sad deaths resulting.
One can only hope this time is different.
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