On Tuesday, Troy Patch had the opportunity to ask Troy Police Chief Gary Mayer a few questions about his department's shrinking budget and the challenges it poses. These are his unedited comments.
Troy Patch: What is your budget?
Chief Mayer: Our operating budget, which is what pays for the personnel and the day-to-day things, is $22,917,000.
Troy Patch: What was it last year?
Chief Mayer: Last year, our operating budget was $27,873,000.
Troy Patch: So that's a $5 million cut?
Chief Mayer: Yes, about a $5 million cut. The total difference between the two is $4,955,000.
Troy Patch: How have you coped with that?
Chief Mayer: What that represents is the loss of personnel that we've had through the early retirement plan. Last year, we had 33 people retire from the police department in calendar year '11. So what that's done is we've had to change the method with which we operate, change our staffing levels, so our road patrol staffing levels have changed where we don't have as many people available for patrol. We've eliminated going into this next budget (year) our Traffic Safety Unit, so we no longer have a Traffic Safety Unit. What we've done is reassigned them to patrol shifts.
We've cut back on our evidence techs. We have about half the evidence technicians that we used to have, so what that means is we don't handle the property crimes and crime scene processing that we used to do. We don't do it any longer because we don't have the personnel. Now, that's at the discretion of the shift commander; if there's a circumstance where they think we need to document information for an arrest, we'll get an evidence technician involved, but we just don't have the staffing to do that at this point.
We no longer have officers in schools – that was from the last budget cycle that we did that – so we're changing the caseload of what we investigate. We changed our method of responding to retail frauds. It's part of our ICMA continuing changes. So what that means is if there's a retail fraud, which there could be known as either a shoplifting or what used to be shoplifting or larceny in a building, are now called retail fraud and have misdemeanor and felony retail frauds. So we've changed on those, if it's a misdemeanor one, we're not going to arrest them, we're just going to show up on the scene and write them an appearance ticket.
If it's a juvenile retail fraud, we used to take all of them into custody, bring them into the police station, process them, call the parents and turn them over to the parents, and then petition them to the juvenile court. We're now changing that and putting the responsibility for notification of the parents and the holding of them until the parents arrive on the stores because we just can't spare the manpower now to sit with the kids until their parents arrive.
Troy Patch: At your peak, when you had the most officers, how many sworn officers did you have?
Chief Mayer: Before, we had 137. This year, we have 97, what we're budgeted for.
Troy Patch: What about next year?
Chief Mayer: Ninety-seven.
Troy Patch: So you're not going to lose any more officers next year?
Chief Mayer: No, because what happened is we reduced our staffing levels, which is why we have the $5 million difference over our budget from last year to this year, ahead of schedule. We're ahead of where we need to be in reduction of personnel, so that's why we're saving money, because we don't have the people that five years ago we thought we would have because we reduced our numbers. That means the money that would have been budgeted and spent on personnel costs is now available and returned to the budget.
Troy Patch: There was a push a few years ago to raise the millage by 1.9 mills for the police department, correct?
Chief Mayer: That wasn't only for the police department, that was for general operating expenditures. The police department would have been included with that, but it was not specifically a police millage.
Troy Patch: I'm hearing more and more from people who are saying they didn't know we were having such problems supporting our police department.
Chief Mayer: That's the problem. What occurs is when everything's going fine, people pay attention to their own lives and they're not worried about it. Only when things become a problem is when it gets people's attention. So, we've been a very well-run, efficient city for years and years, and everything's been going along fine, and most people just trust that everything's fine. It's only when we have these wide swings and issues and problems come up that people pay attention. I totally understand it. Don't worry about the garbage pickup until the garbage isn't picked up, right?
Troy Patch: So what are your biggest concerns with your reduced staffing, not having a Traffic Safety Unit and just not having the manpower? What are you seeing as the biggest challenges so far?
Chief Mayer: What I don't like is we've got a long-standing tradition of providing quality service to the citizens and having the ability to be one of the best police departments around. Everybody looked at Troy PD because we did it right. If they needed model policies or they needed to see how something is done, they looked at the Troy Police Department because we did it right. We had the skills, we had the knowledge, we had the ability, we got it done. They would look at us, and if Troy did it, they did it.
What's starting to occur is we don't have the resources to be the best any more. What we're doing is starting to reduce the service delivery and some of the things we used to do, we're changing, and I don't like doing that. I want us to provide the best possible service we can to the people who pay us, and I don't like being in this position of having to reduce the services that we deliver.
But we understand it. We understand we've got to change with the times, and that's what we're doing. We've got good people who are going to deliver the best quality service they can with the resources that we have.
Troy Patch: If you could ask for anything to help fix this situation, what would you ask for?
Chief Mayer: I can't give you a set number of what I'd like because it's whatever the citizens are willing to pay – we'll give them that level of service. If you were asking me, what do I think is a fair and equitable way to do things, I think people need to realize the police department is part of the overall city, and we've been functioning at a very high rate in the police department. That's because of the support we get from the city. The police department does not have a finance department because we get the payroll and all the support from the finance division of the city. So we have to have the support that goes on behind the scenes. You have to have people who are in a position to collect the taxes, so you need the finance section that has the assessors so they can go out and assess.
You've got to have people who are working on community development because we have to develop this fine community and keep it going in the right direction so people want to live here, because naturally if people live in the City of Troy, we'll have a tax base. We'll have citizens who want to be policed, who are cooperative with the police, and we'll have establishments that want to be in town that will make Troy the vibrant place it was in the past and bring us back to that.
Naturally, once you start getting people and business and commercial enterprise in town, things are going to be better for all of us. We need to work together and not have the divisiveness that goes on, and we need to work together as a community to make Troy what it was in the past. We need to do that.
Troy Patch: Is it possible to ask for another millage for the police department?
Chief Mayer: That's a question that's not in my realm to be able to answer. We'll take whatever resources there are. If the citizens say they can't afford any more funding, we'll make do with what we've got, and we'll give the best service we can. If the citizens say they want to increase funding, then it will be my job to look and see what's going to enhance the quality of life.
I would look at things that we know work in Troy. I would put police officers back in the schools. I would continue to have a community services section. I would resurrect our Traffic Safety Unit so we could provide that direct service that people want. They want the cop on the street in uniform that shows up when they call. They want somebody to show up and police their accident, to get the roadways clear so they can get home. Those are the services that they look for, and we want to do what we can to provide those.
We would also look at things I know as a police officer in my years of experience that work to get bad guys off the street. I would make sure that we have a surveillance unit that is capable and able to follow and arrest serial criminals that perform many of the crimes that go on in this town. We have criminals who come in from other cities and commit the crimes that happen in Troy. They don't just live in Troy, they're from all over the place. What we've been doing, is we have a cooperative effort with our surveillance unit where we can target those individuals and arrest them before they continually pray on Troy citizens. We've had really good luck with that, and I want to keep that going.
We've got our criminal intelligence unit that keeps track of and develops information on serial criminals so we can make sure we target them. Our criminal investigations unit that does a really good job of following up and getting warrants on people – those are the kinds of things that we need to do as a police department, and we'll continue to do the best we can with that.
We've got our major case assignment team where we reduce our overtime and work in cooperation with other jurisdictions around us on major cases to investigate them. That's a great venture. These tough times found us reaching out and doing that because we couldn't do it on our own, and that's a big improvement.
There are bad things that have happened, but we've made some good things happen as a result of that. Our crash investigation team, which is called SOCCIT – South Oakland County Crash Investigation Team – that's a good group. We were actually able to get those people together and be more effective as a whole, as a group, that we were individually. We've had great luck with that.
On a bigger scale, there are civil disorders that could occur, or mass demonstrations. It's becoming the norm, and we've seen it happen over the past couple of years in Troy. We never had that before. It's very difficult for the Troy Police Department to police it by themselves with our limited resources. You were at the last one at the San Marino Club.
Troy Patch: When that does happen and you've got 1,300 people that show up, who pays that overtime?
Chief Mayer: That event there was out of our budget. Probably half of the police officers who were there were on regular time – we adjusted their schedules – and we had to hold over the day shift because of safety concerns. And then we had to call in some people, so that's extra money. It cost us money.
Fortunately for Troy, we're a destination city. People want to be here because it's a good place to be. Unfortunately for us, that causes us to have to increase overtime when we get big groups of people like that. We don't have the staff on hand that's working that can just go over and handle that event when it occurs. We have to call people in and change our staffing allocations.
Troy Patch: In recent months, since the transit center has been such an issue, along with other issues, and as more people have attended City Council meetings, have you had to send more staff to the meetings, as well?
Chief Mayer: Yes, I have had to have more police officers attend the City Council meetings. There have been some heated exchanges there, and the concern is that things will get out of hand. So what we do is make sure we have police officers there to ensure the voluntary compliance of the people who are attending the meetings, and we want to look out for everybody's safety.
When tensions get high, no matter what the issue is, people sometimes do and say things that they wouldn't normally do. We want to have that effect of calming people down, and I know we get that with an increased police presence.
Troy Patch: With all the early retirements and moving people around, trimming here and trimming there, how is morale at the department?
Chief Mayer: I'm very fortunate to work with very professional and good people. This is has affected morale, but I would say that most people wouldn't notice it. I have not seen an increase in citizens' complaints for attitude or citizens' complaints for officers not doing something. That's a good indicator - it means things are going well.
The productivity – and that is in officers keeping track of activities they're involved with, including arrest and moving or parking violations – is in some cases stable. We have as many as we did before, when we were fully staffed, and in some areas, it's increased.
If you look at our drunken driving arrests, the officers are still out there making arrests for drunk drivers, which is a crime that we're very aware of and we focus a lot of our efforts on because we've had some tragic drunken driving incidents leading to deaths. The officers are doing a good job making those arrests still.
My point would be, if morale was down, you wouldn't see the productivity where it is. It seems to be going very well.
Troy Patch: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Chief Mayer: I think from the standpoint of where we're going in the future, there's a lot of questions of what the future's going to bring. When you look at it from a city employee's standpoint, everybody realizes there is going to be a flattening out, a plateau that we're going to reach where hopefully things will get better down the road. I think that through the concessions that the employees gave – they all realize that they want to work with the citizens, they understand what the citizens are going through also, and everyone has been effected by this downturn in our economy, and we're all hopeful that things turn back up so we can bring Troy back to where it was before.
For more information about the 2012-2013 proposed budget, click here.