(Flint, MI)—When I left Flint in 1970 the population was 193,317. The automobile factories ran three shifts, often seven days a week. Money was everywhere. Flint’s police department drove new Buicks every year. Life was good.
Flint’s economy went down the tubes. Some blame the United Auto Workers union. Others blame General Motors, Flint’s cash cow. My inexact assessment places blame on the greed of both of them. The union demanded unrealistic benefits while protecting lazy, often drunk workers and slackers. General Motors learned they could move the factories down south or to other countries where they would pay lower or rock-bottom wages and still earn a tidy profit.
When the factories closed, many working people left Flint in droves leaving behind a host of thugs and welfare leeches along with good people trying to make the best of the situation. Since I departed, 93,554 people left Flint, leaving the present population at 99,763, many of whom are the aforementioned thugs and leeches.
For the last three years Flint has held the distinction of being the nation’s most violent city per capita with a population over 100,000 (even worse than gun-blazing Chicago). No longer having over 100,000 people, Flint will now be the most violent city with a population under 100,000. That’s no honor.
Flint is dangerously close to filing bankruptcy. The governor has appointed two different Emergency Financial Managers to take over Flint, making the mayor and council powerless to right the municipal ship even if they could. The EFM is poised to impose a contract on the police that will change the pension plan and cap payments for retiree health care and cap accumulated hours for sick, vacation, and other time off to 300 hours.
On Oct. 14, 2013, James Tolbert was appointed as the new Police Chief for Flint. Tolbert, a Marine Corps veteran, had 27 years with the Detroit Police Department, many as a Deputy Chief.
Tolbert is 53 years old, about 6-feet-4, and probably weighs 235 solid pounds. He looks like he could slip out of his police gear and put on a Detroit Lions uniform and play linebacker tomorrow. Tolbert dresses like a street cop, right down to the boots worn by the male patrol officers. He appears ready to get in a patrol car and handle radio calls. He actually responds to some calls if he’s out and about within the city.
I asked the obvious question: “Why would you, or anyone, want to be Flint’s Chief?” With his ever ready smile he said, “It was a challenge I couldn’t pass up.”
He said he knew nothing about the inner workings of the city of Flint before taking the job. He knew it was about 60 miles north of Detroit and had a huge homicide rate. In effect, it was a miniature Detroit, and he had been successful in Detroit.
I asked the chief if he had a timetable for his career in Flint. He said, “I plan to do the best job I can for as long as they let me. My goal is to work myself out a job.” He laughed at that last sentence and added, “Work myself out of a job with success that is.”
Tolbert has had to endure the layoff of many officers before he arrived and the looming caps by the Financial Manager. Tolbert is getting help from the Michigan State Police.
Next week I write about the cumulative efforts between the two departments and how they interface.