City Council approves security fence for MH Police Dept.

By: Andy Kozlowski, | Madison - Park News | Published September 21, 2016

MADISON HEIGHTS — During its meeting Sept. 12, the Madison Heights City Council approved the purchase and installation of a security fence around the rear lot of the Madison Heights Police Department in the Civic Center complex at 13 Mile and John R roads. The fence is meant to protect the police officers, their vehicles and equipment, as well as the general public.

Council arrived at this decision after receiving a petition signed by every police officer and service aide at the MHPD, all in support of installing the fence. Council also heard from the police union president and a member of the Crime Commission, as well as concerned residents who spoke in support of the fence during the meeting.

The fence will cost $50,000 and will be funded by a one-time savings in the city’s liability insurance premium. It will take the form of a 6-foot-tall, black-vinyl-coated fence that includes a pedestrian gate, cantilever vehicle gates, and electrical work for opening and securing the gates.

David Soltis was the council member who originally pushed for the issue and made the motion to approve the fence. He said he was pleased with the results.

“I think this is an important issue,” Soltis said at the meeting. “I want this security fence because the officers want it. That’s it. That’s enough for me. They are the ones who potentially put their lives in jeopardy every time they come to work. To me they’re like military heroes; they’re here to protect and serve. They see the worst in people that the public, fortunately, doesn’t see.

“We don’t really know the personal sacrifices they make for the greater good of the community … but they just want what’s best for the community they serve,” he said. “So this is the least we can do for them, to show them respect for what they do every day.”

The case for the fence
Madison Heights police officer Ed Malak, who also serves as president of the police union, made the case for the fence during public comments.

“We feel there’s an urgent need to secure the rear lot of the police station. … With respect to police officers and the difficult job we do, it’s reached a low we haven’t seen in quite some time. Police officers across the country have been under attack,” Malak said, referring to incidents such as the police slayings in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier this summer.

“As a city, we must re-evaluate how we operate. … We start and end our shifts every day in the rear parking lot. It’s not uncommon to have several officers congregate there at one time. It’s not uncommon to encounter citizens walking through the lot. Many ignore the fact it’s for police only. We’ve had citizens sitting on patrol cars, on our personal vehicles. We have students regularly walk in between the cars, parked or otherwise. A few years back, we caught a person inside a police car. Citizens currently have unhindered access to our lot and vehicles.”

He described a variety of ways that someone could sabotage the MHPD’s vehicle fleet and effectively prevent the police from responding to emergencies across the city.

“Their targets could include anything from schools, churches, places of business or homes throughout the city. Consider the outcry if this happens and we can’t perform our duties simply because we haven’t secured our lot,” Malak said. “A criminal will take the easiest route to commit a crime; if they want to break into a home or business, and one is poorly lit or doesn’t have a perimeter fence or gate, they’re going to choose it. A secure lot greatly improves our odds against criminal intent to harm police or to harm police property.”

He noted that the public will still have access to the station and be welcome there. He also acknowledged that a fence won’t guarantee complete safety, but said it will act as a major deterrent against would-be criminals.

“We can’t let aesthetics, public perception or costs influence this issue,” Malak said. “We’re asking you to approve this fence for its immediate construction ASAP.”

Doug MacLean, chairman of the Crime Commission, said his group studied the issue and recommends the fence.

“We voted unanimously to place the fence in the back of the station,” MacLean told council. “Times are changing. Things do happen. There is a lot of valuable equipment behind the station by the radio tower for communications for the Police Department. Things can also happen to police cars not in use that shift, as well as to the officers’ private cars.”

Paul Sanders, a resident, was enthusiastic about the fence.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Sanders said. “There are things to stop people driving out of the lot, but it’s still wide open. I think it’d be a great idea for safety if they could put something there to protect the police and their cars. … (The fence) doesn’t have to look barbaric, but it can be functional.”

Johnnette Eggert, another resident, also spoke in favor of the fence.

“I stand in support of our officers,” Eggert said. “There’s no greater time than now to make sure they’re protected. Having a fence in our day and age with so much happening, it’s time to stand up for our officers.”

Craig Brundage, also a resident, echoed this sentiment.

“We go to bed each night, lock our doors and secure our vehicles as best we can, but for some reason we ask the Police Department not to secure everything at their disposal. … We know there are people in this world who would harm our first responders if given the opportunity.

We are in a society right now where attacks and ambushes have occurred on our police officers, and respect and regard for our officers has dwindled away,” Brundage said. “As Officer Ed (Malak) said, it won’t be a failsafe, but it certainly is a deterrent. It keeps people from getting to police vehicles and rushing the back door. So I just want to speak up for approval of this fence.”

Council’s response
City Councilman Richard Clark, a reserve officer for 24 years, said he was voting for the fence, but admitted he was a tad apprehensive because the fence is a $50,000 expenditure they hadn’t planned on in the original budget. He also thought the fence might send the wrong signal to others.

“By putting up a fence, we’re showing ISIS or any other group we’re afraid of them, which is what they want,” Clark said. “An ambush is usually a well-thought-out plan. No fence will stop it, and most occur on the road when the officer lets their guard down. … Reluctantly, I will vote yes for it — but it should’ve been a budget item.”

City Councilman Robert Corbett said he was unsure at first as well.

“I don’t think anyone on council is necessarily opposed to this fence, but it is a lot of money,” Corbett said. “But I think what turned me from a non-fence vote to a yes vote is over the last few months, society has just gotten awfully aggressive toward officers. I guess the officers could tell me it’s always been that way, but it’s become so obvious and over the top at this point, where officers are being targeted for their uniform.

It seems to be a reasonable step to take at this point.

“I also want to single out Mr. Soltis,” Corbett added. “He has pushed on this issue for months, and I don’t know if I was the hardest yes vote to track down, but I’m glad he did.”

City Councilman Bob Gettings said he thinks the fence is a good idea. With that being said, “I just hope we don’t get into a habit of putting things out there and voting on items we didn’t put in at the beginning of the budget.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss said the fence is proof that local government is working.

“I love the fact staff was able to identify budget savings and direct them toward officer safety in the climate we’re living in,” Bliss said. “This is exactly the way the system is designed — to budget based on the knowledge we have, and when times change, we direct savings toward the issue. I’m of the mindset we should always look for savings so we can support projects like this.”

City Councilwoman Margene Scott said that the unanimous support from the police is what swayed her to support the fence.

“Normally our city manager handles our department heads, but I welcome all the input they give me since they know their departments better than I do, and I value their judgment,” Scott said. “I know it’s their job to protect us, and I trust any one of them. What finally convinced me was seeing this list of our respected officers saying they want this and they believe this will help. I was also eager to hear from the Crime Commission, since they study things like this better than we can on council, and they have input from citizens all over the city.”

The fence issue required a supermajority of five votes. The mayor and council unanimously supported the fence, which the city hopes to install as soon as possible.