By Barry Sherman
Who would have guessed that this state and country would be in the condition they are in today — only ten years after the turn of the century?
Let’s go to back to Dec. 31st 1999. As the Midnight Shift Lieutenant at Livonia P.D., I had a station full of brass and city officials all standing by waiting for the big y2k crash that was supposed to disable everything from computers to street lights. We even stockpiled pallets loaded with bottled water in the vehicle maintenance garage to supply those who needed it when the water system shut down.
Well, as you are aware, nothing of any significance occurred. The months of meetings to plan our response leading up to this national catastrophe were little more than a waste of time. All the brass went home and we handled the typical runs related to New Year’s Eve. I retired the following month and began my new position at Madonna University.
The issues facing the country at that time (aside from y2k) were really non-issues. The national unemployment rate was at 4.0%. The NASDAQ was at an all time high of over 5,000 and we were all excited about the money our deferred compensation and 401k accounts were earning. Property values continued to rise and our homes seemed like good investments for the future. Because the economy was doing so well and businesses and industry in Michigan were still flourishing, income to local communities in the form of taxes continued strong. Michigan’s prison population was rising as support for the “get tough on crime” philosophy was running high in this state. Additional correction officers were being hired to meet this increase. Municipalities were recruiting new police officers to replace retiring ones. Manpower levels in many police agencies were at their peak. Salaries for officers continued to increase and fringe benefits for public employees were not tinkered with. Many departments continued to encourage their officers to obtain higher education and offered tuition reimbursement plans.
Then the unthinkable occurred: the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. There are those who feel that this event was the pivotal point in the downslide of our economy. The World Trade Center attacks, along with other events throughout the decade, including the mismanagement of our largest banks, the Wall Street scandals, and the mortgage mess, brought us to our near economic collapse last year.
Now let us compare 2010 to 2000. The once almighty NASDAQ struggles to stay over 2,000. Our once flourishing 457 and 401k accounts have been decimated or severely impacted. The unemployment rate in this state exceeds 15%. Michigan started its recession long before the nation did. Many businesses have closed up and the auto industry and related manufacturing have drastically reduced their workforce. This has led to many home foreclosures. Property values have plummeted and the resulting tax dollars that state and local governments were receiving have been reduced dramatically. These tax dollars are the main revenues that support police budgets. It is astounding to think that 500,000 homes in Michigan are worth less than what is owed.
The impact on law enforcement and criminal justice in this state has been devastating. Many departments are working with severe manpower shortages as they can no longer replace those who are retiring. This will affect the ability to effectively police their communities, not to mention the related officer safety issues. Some departments are offering buyout packages to expedite this retirement exodus. An area district court judge recently told me his traffic case load has been seriously reduced due to the decrease in officers in his community, resulting in fewer citations being issued. Think how this will impact traffic safety in communities such as his. Car crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities are sure to follow. Fringe benefits are always a target in times like this. Health care deductibles and co-pays usually fall victim. Modern day professional policing has always been characterized by educated officers. Tuition reimbursement has been suspended or reduced by some departments. Our Corrections Department continues to be negatively impacted by the executive branch of this state. The governor has declared open house in our prison system, with many offenders being released early in a misguided and dangerous effort to reduce the state budget. The reported high of 51,000 inmates will be brought down to 46,000. Her most recent proposal of awarding “good time” would release thousands of additional felons. This will no doubt result in higher crime rates and additional work for law enforcement and the courts.
I will end this commentary with the sentence I began with. Who would have guessed that this state and country would be in the condition they are in today.
Barry Sherman retired from the Livonia Police Department as a Lieutenant after 28 years of service. He was a member of the POAM and is a past president of the Livonia Lieutenants and Sergeants Association. He earned his B.A. Degree from Madonna University and his M.A. in Criminal Justice from the University Of Detroit. Barry taught part time at area colleges and universities while employed with Livonia. Upon his retirement he accepted a full time position with Madonna University where he is an Associate Professor and Chairperson of the Criminal Justice Department. He is member of the Criminal Justice Advisory Boards for Livonia Public Schools and Henry Ford Community College and North Central Michigan College. Barry is on the Board of Trustees for Highland Twp. You can reach him at 734-432-5546 or firstname.lastname@example.org.