(Flint, MI)—When I worked as a Flint patrolman the force consisted of around 300 officers. Today, through attrition and layoffs, there are about 120 cops with 36 more expected to be laid off soon. While Chula Vista usually investigates less than 10 homicides annually, Flint, with a population of 99,763, usually has 60-plus victims per annum.
Flint’s revenue situation is so bad the governor appointed an Emergency Financial Manager, hopefully to save Flint from bankruptcy. Along with the EFM, Flint cops now share policing responsibilities with the Michigan State Police.
There is no law enforcement entity in California to compare with the Michigan State Police. California used to have a state police, an organization formed in 1887, to protect the State Capitol building, the governor, and various state employees. However, the state coppers merged with the California Highway Patrol in 1995. Even though the CHP consists of sworn police officers they don’t handle regular patrol or investigation duties.
On the other hand, the Michigan State Police is a full-service police agency. They do traffic collision investigations on Michigan’s expressways. They also patrol and conduct investigations anywhere in the state, especially when asked.
Flint’s crime situation was so bad that the MSP assumed shared patrol and investigation duties in the city of Flint a few years ago. Because I had never heard of this dual enforcement venture, I asked Flint’s police chief, James Tolbert to explain how the two departments shared duties and interfaced with one another.
Tolbert knew what he was getting into when he assumed Flint’s top cop position. He knew the MSP were already there. With many police agencies there is a territorial possessiveness, along with professional jealousy. This is not so with MSP and FPD.
Chief Tolbert said the state officers do not respond to radio calls. Instead, they patrol and do proactive duties. They have made numerous arrests and jacked up the “pants-on-the-ground” guys well enough to make many arrests and confiscate hundreds of illegally carried weapons.
The MSP in Flint has 26 uniformed troopers and four sergeants. They have four detective sergeants and nine detective troopers in the major crimes unit. Three troopers and one sergeant make up the Area Crime Team. The area officers target known crooks and keep their eyes on them, often nabbing them in the act of doing their specialty crime. The Chief calls this “directed patrol” where they get the guys “driving” the crimes. That is, they don’t mess with small time miscreants, but concentrate on hooking large fish.
Both agencies listen to the same radio frequency so they are well-coordinated in that respect. Tolbert is a big fan of technology and data. He has a crime analyst working in house that directs officers where to concentrate their efforts.
Flint has 13 detectives of their own in their bureau, with eight working crimes against persons (read homicide). Tolbert told me they have an 80 percent clearance rate in homicide investigation. As with most police departments, they know who did most of the other 20 percent of the killings, but currently lack evidence to go forward usually due to reluctant witnesses.
Homicide numbers are down. I didn’t have the heart to point out that the winter weather in Flint was at least partly responsible for the reduced killings. Who wants to go on a drive-by when there is four feet of snow and no one standing outside to shoot?
Tolbert says he is happily overwhelmed with the dedication and outstanding efforts of his police department. My nosing around revealed the Flint cops actually like Tolbert too. As much as I love Michigan, I’m still glad I moved to Chula Vista.