Harper WoodsAugust 15, 2012
Police chief advocates for more state, federal help
By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer
HARPER WOODS — The city is next to what has been called the “most dangerous ZIP code in Michigan,” and the Police Department is short on manpower.
Police Chief James Burke has been making his case to state and federal departments for more help in Harper Woods.
Burke is persistent in his quest to get some support. He reached out to the U.S. Attorneys’ Office and the Michigan State Police with letters. One of those letters resulted in a planned meeting with officials from the U.S. Attorneys’ Office in Detroit last week.
“The purpose of this correspondence is to seek assistance from your office in combating the rise of violent crime in my community,” Burke stated in the letter to the U.S. Attorneys’ Office of the Eastern District of Michigan. “In 2012, we have already confiscated 46 guns from incidents occurring in Harper Woods.
“The majority of these incidents were felony related arrests, but the number also includes guns seized at shots fired runs and for guns taken for safekeeping in domestic violence situations,” he stated.
That letter was dated in late July, and Burke said the number of guns confiscated is now over 50.
The department is struggling in that it is down eight officers this year from where it was late last year with the possibility of losing more on the horizon. Some retired and a few others have left for other departments due to concerns about the financial situation in which Harper Woods finds itself.
“We’re still facing very significant shortfalls in the budget,” Burke said. “The city manager is looking at every avenue to make sure we’re going to be in compliance with the law.”
That could mean more cuts to police including possible future staff reductions.
Burke said that he read the recent article in the Advertiser Times regarding the fire union’s concerns and said that statements that the brunt of the cuts falls on the Fire Department is wrong. The police are down significant staff and have given major concessions with negotiations to give back more under way, Burke said.
Burke said the police are not going to cry about it or try to scare the residents.
“The safety of the residents comes first,” Burke said. “We’re going to come in and work hard and serve the residents first.”
Despite being down officers, the police have also managed to suit up to fight some fires as part of mutual aid to Grosse Pointe Woods, using their fire training.
“Several of our officers have been inside of structures that have been on fire over the last eight months,” Burke said.
He said the police understand the situation the acting city manager is facing in trying to balance a budget during extreme financial times.
Acting City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk said he has been working on negotiations with employee groups, including police and fire, with some positive discussions. A lot of what he can do will come down to the results of those negotiations.
“I am constantly trying to figure out how we can strengthen those resources for both police and fire,” he said.
“We’re at a point where we’ve lost some fine officers,” Skotarczyk said, complimenting the highly trained officers in the department.
Despite being down officers, Burke doesn’t want residents to worry because he said the department continues to do everything it can to ensure the public remains safe. They have maneuvered things around to keep officers on the street despite the loss in numbers.
“We’ve made as many adjustments as we can,” Burke said.
As for contacting other agencies at the state and federal level, Skotarczyk said he started reaching out when he was police chief, and Burke is continuing the effort.
“I applaud his efforts,” Skotarczyk said, adding that while the cities are facing cuts and budget constraints, the federal government has more resources.
“I hope he vigorously continues doing that,” Skotarczyk said.
Burke’s request to the Michigan State Police is simple — they want troopers back. At one time, there were two state police troopers stationed at the department.
Burke called them “an integral part of our community.”
“Their presence was a deterrent to crime and certainly was a welcome sight to our residents,” Burke stated in a letter to the state police director.
Harper Woods gave them free space to work as a sort of outpost in the city. Then, the troopers were removed from Harper Woods during changes at the state level.
Now, with news that the state police are hiring, Burke feels it’s a good time to ask for the state to move troopers back into the city.
“I also agree with the current plan to deploy them in the four highest crime communities to assist in crime reduction there,” Burke stated in his letter. “I am asking that consideration also be made to small jurisdictions, such as Harper Woods, where the presence of even two troopers can make a considerable impact.”
“The bigger police presence that I can put out in this community the safer this community will be,” he said last week.
He was waiting last week for a response to that request.
“We’d like our detachment back,” Skotarczyk agreed, mentioning how far the city’s span of freeway is from the state police posts.
The letter to the U.S. Attorneys’ Office asks for help for Harper Woods in light of the decision to beef up law enforcement presence in the bordering area of Detroit.
“I applaud your efforts in assisting Detroit with increased federal presence in the 48205 (ZIP) code, commonly labeled the most dangerous (ZIP) code in Michigan,” Burke stated. “Harper Woods shares a border with that area, and in fact, our main business district abuts the eastern border of the 48205 (ZIP) code.
“My officers aggressively enforce the law and average over 2,000 arrests per year in a 2.6 square mile city,” he stated, listing the number of officers Harper Woods is down from last year. “I am concerned about the likelihood of increased violent crime in and around Harper Woods with the significant loss of these police officers.”
Skotarczyk also wants to see the U.S. Attorneys’ Office bring some coverage across the Detroit border where they are planning to add law enforcement assistance, saying that sometimes crime can be pushed into nearby areas when one area has beefed up enforcement.
“We want to make sure that those resources are extended,” Skotarczyk said.
Burke said he received a positive response from the U.S. Attorneys’ Office in that they understand his concerns and were willing to meet with him on the issue. He scheduled a meeting with the head of the violent crimes section of the office.
“I just wanted to know what resources they have to assist us,” Burke said. “I’m just trying to reach out to all of our partners.”
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