Schuette suggests using surplus to hire 1,000 officers

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING (AP) -- Michigan should use part of its budget surplus to hire 1,000 new police officers and reverse years of declining law enforcement staffing, Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday.

The state has lost more than 3,000 law enforcement officers since 2001, according to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, due in part to declining property tax revenues and reduced revenue sharing payments from the state to local governments. Schuette said the shrinking number of officers is a trend that needs to change to make Michigan a safer, more attractive place to live.

"It's all about more cops on the street," Schuette said at an event promoting his proposal. "It's all about more criminals behind bars."

State budget officials say there is an unanticipated surplus of $457 million left over from the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Proposals for spending part of the surplus are expected when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's administration rolls out its next budget plan Feb. 9.

There will be competition for the money. Legislative leaders say they share the concern about public safety, but it doesn't mean they'll support spending part of the surplus to hire more police.

Jessica Tramontana, a spokeswoman for House Democratic Leader Richard Hammel, said Wednesday that the money should be used to help restore recent budget cuts to public schools.

Republican majority leaders noted there is no plan to keep the additional officers on the street once the surplus money runs out, and that's a potential problem.

"Mr. Schuette's plan calls for using one-time money for long-term spending," Ari Adler, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger, said in an email. "We finally brought an end to the practice of relying on future generations to pay for irresponsible budget decisions and we are not going back to those days."

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel did not comment on specifics of Schuette's plan, but said the governor "is focused on structural fixes that we can afford and are accounted for in the coming years."

Snyder mentioned in his State of the State speech last week that Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw rank among the nation's top 10 in violent crime. The governor plans to deliver a special message on public safety to the Legislature in March, focused on increasing law enforcement and improving the operation of the criminal justice system.

Schuette said talks about his proposal are just beginning, but he'll work with Snyder and legislative leaders to determine the most effective way to help communities deal with the decline in numbers of police. Schuette's plan calls for roughly $140 million over two years to hire the officers, but details on how they would be distributed across the state, if the plan were to be enacted, have not been worked out.

"It would reduce crime statewide and definitely in Detroit," said Ralph Godbee, Detroit's police chief.

Schuette also proposed a plan Wednesday aimed at keeping repeat offenders off the streets. The proposal would impose a minimum 25-year prison sentence for criminals convicted of a serious violent crime if they already have three prior felony convictions.

Published: Fri, Jan 27, 2012