HARPER WOODS — Police Chief James Burke called it “probably a historic night in Harper Woods” as he got ready to introduce seven new part-time officers for their swearing-in ceremony March 18.
Bringing in part-time officers to supplement the short-staffed full-time officers might have seemed impossible in other communities with hurdles like union contract issues, but the police unions in Harper Woods paved the way to make it possible.
“I really give credit, first and foremost, to the police unions,” Burke said. “This was a very simple process to get both unions on board. I’m very grateful and pleased.
“The safety of our residents comes first,” he said.
The city needed the manpower, and hiring full-time officers is not in the city’s budget.
The Police Department, however, had been working with 30 percent less manpower after officers were not replaced following changes like retirements. While the remaining officers stepped up to do more, it wasn’t quite enough to make up the difference, and the department needed more help.
The new officers are Larence McLendon, Stephen Johnson, Jaime Ibarra, Daniel Schewe, Kevin Burleson, Daniel Jonoshies and Lyle Reece.
“The city has a proud history of public service,” City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk said. “I’m sure they’ll all be a great asset to our community.”
Burke is looking to bring on more part-time officers in the near future.
“It’s the first wave,” he said. “I’m looking to add, like, six to eight more.”
So far, the department has been able to bring in some highly experienced officers. The first part-time officers started a couple of weeks ago, but they all have experience prior to Harper Woods.
Some were part-time officers in other departments and others are retired officers.
“They all have varying years of experience,” Burke said, adding that they are all quality officers. “A couple of these guys have detective bureau experience.”
“We have a bunch of different roles that we need to get filled,” Burke said.
Those roles will include performing some of the work in the department to free up time so that full-time officers can spend more time on the streets. For instance, the part-time officers can book prisoners and watch the desk.
The goal is to increase visibility in the community, including along Kelly where there have been some concerns due to the proximity of a highly dangerous section of Detroit, considered one of the most dangerous zip codes, Burke said.
“I anticipate we’re going to have much higher visibility on Kelly,” he said. “I’m still looking into the possibility of having a building up there.
“We’re very aware of what’s happening over there and it does bleed over into our community, at times,” Burke said.
While the city cannot afford to buy a building, Burke said he has been talking to businesses in the area for some possible spaces for officers.
Another possibility that part-time officers might create is re-establishing a bike patrol, which would further increase visibility.
“We haven’t been able to utilize our bike patrol for a number of years due to staffing issues,” Burke said.
While overall crime was down last year, the last six months saw some changes that were trending in a negative direction. Criminals may have noticed that there weren’t as many officers visible after the reductions in staff.
Burke plans to use the part-time officers to rectify that, and he’s already seeing positive changes.
“They’re in the middle of training, but they’ve already had a significant positive impact,” Burke said.
He anticipates the part-time officers will be ready to go out on solo patrols in the next couple of weeks.
Council members were happy to see the new officers and their families at the council meeting last week.
“I am very grateful that we were able to bring in seven patrol officers,” Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Costantino said.
Burke is pleased with how things are going in the department, saying that morale is up. He also anticipates Harper Woods’ model, with a core full-time staff that is supplemented by part-time officers, will spread with many communities tackling tough economic times.
“The residents of these communities around us deserve to have as much protection, also,” he said.
“The citizens of Harper Woods deserve as much safety as we can provide them,” he said. “It’s the wave of the future.”