OPINION: Ann Arbor is safe thanks to a police force that works well despite necessary budget cuts
Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com
1) What is our crime rate; what police services do we need?
2) What are our available resources; what police services can we afford?
3) How does crime in Ann Arbor compare to other communities; how do our police perform?
A recent guest opinion (“Ann Arbor lacks adequate policing levels to keep the city safe,” by Stephen Ranzini) avoids this serious inquiry. It expresses a belief that Ann Arbor is no longer safe, and cites prominently as evidence out-county statistics and anecdotes from the online comment section of AnnArbor.com. This opinion runs counter to the plain and relevant facts.
Ann Arbor’s long-term crime rate continues to drop
If you include 2011, Part One, Serious Crimes are down 27%. As crime numbers plummeted in 2011, then Police Chief Barnett Jones said repeatedly that 2011 was anomalous - well outside the usual steady 2%-3% decline. It’s no wonder then that crime is “up” this year when compared to 2011, but it could well even out by December 2012. Any police chief will tell you it’s the long-term trends that matter.
To achieve a better understanding of crime trends, read reporter Ryan Stanton’s February 2012 article on AnnArbor.com. Steady decline. Or you might read the article tracking crime in Ann Arbor over the last 30 years in the December 2011 Ann Arbor Observer, “Ann Arbor’s Better Angels.” The subtitle says it all: “Crime is Down, Way, Way, Way Down.”
Ann Arbor has devoted disproportionate resources to safety services
Michigan has over 3,000 fewer police officers than in 2001. Ann Arbor’s critics may tire of hearing this, but it’s the simple truth - lower property values, near zero percent interest rates, the university’s purchase of the Pfizer facility, and deep cuts in state revenue sharing decimated the city’s revenue over the last decade while legacy pension and especially health care costs continued to rise. Any evaluation of city services that does not fully recognize and engage this reality is simply frivolous.
Although it has remained focused on providing a balanced set of services - safety services have always been the city’s top priority. Safety services accounted for approximately 40 percent of the general fund budget in 2002. Now, even after accounting for functions no longer in the general fund, safety services amounts to approximately 50 percent of our budget.
The general fund supports many core functions - safety services, parks, courts, public services, planning, and human services. Unless we were to make massive cuts, there just aren’t resources available to significantly augment AAPD. So if you want more officers now, shall we cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from parks? Should we zero out human services? Ann Arbor has many core services; with limited resources we need a balanced approach.
Ann Arbor is a safe community
Crime will never be eliminated. Furthermore, as Chief Jones often said, a disproportionate amount of crime is inherent in university towns. Even so, by any rational measure, Ann Arbor is a safe city.A recently released list of 405 FBI-reporting jurisdictions shows that Ann Arbor is consistently in the top 20 percent of safe cities. Most of the cities ahead of Ann Arbor are smaller or don’t have major university campuses. Here are some of the relevant rankings for university towns: Boulder 86; Evanston 115; Madison 139; Eugene 177; Berkeley 278; and South Bend 316.
Where is Ann Arbor on this list? 78. Among Michigan cities with a population over 100,000, only Sterling Heights 36, has lower crime than Ann Arbor; followed by Warren 255; Grand Rapids 291; Lansing 345; Detroit 403; and Flint 405.
Our success is hardly surprising. Some people forget that Ann Arbor has two police forces - the University of Michigan has 55 sworn, armed officers who cooperate fully with the AAPD and are authorized to act throughout Ann Arbor. Furthermore, and most importantly, the professionals in the AAPD do tremendous work, day in and day out. When it comes to investigating crimes and making arrests, the AAPD is extremely capable as the recent string of armed robbery and graffiti arrests demonstrate. There was a surge of B&E’s early this year, but AAPD made several arrests, the “bubble” popped, and B&E’s have leveled off. Chief Jones, and now interim Chief John Seto, had asked AAPD to perform with grace and skill in deeply difficult times. AAPD’s rank and file delivered. They do it every day.
Better times bring better options
We’re not out of the woods, but Ann Arbor’s budget has turned a corner. Carefully balanced budgets that avoid using one-time funds for recurring expenses have helped make our community the envy of Michigan. The 2-year budget plan passed in May 2011 called for 10 fewer police officers in fiscal year 2013. That all changed on May 21, 2012, when the City Council voted for a budget that fills all 10 vacancies, adds another full-time officer, and starts a “recruit” program to hire 5 part-time, downtown-focused, officers. As times improve, we will naturally evaluate our responsible choices.
We all want more officers. The questions are: Do we NEED more officers? Can we AFFORD more officers? In light of our declining crime rate, the lingering effects of the Great Recession, and AAPD’s irrefutable success compared against similar jurisdictions, the only reasonable conclusion is that Ann Arbor is a remarkably safe community, with the best Police Department it can afford.
Christopher Taylor is an attorney and a member of the Ann Arbor City Council, representing the 3rd Ward. You may reach him at CTaylor@a2gov.org.