Millage Increase Possible For Police In Pittsfield Township
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the police millage in Pittsfield Township is 3.5 mills. The public safety millage for 2020 was 1.9031 mills, according to the township treasurer's office.
Will Pittsfield Township taxpayers see their police millage go from 1.9031 mills to 3.95 mills? Well, that will all depend on how they vote on May 4.
“The proposed increase should be adequate for what we need for the next ten years,” Pittsfield Township Director of Public Safety Matthew Harshberger told the Sun Times News.
The Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees had nothing but good things to say about the police and fire fighters who keep the township safe, Wednesday evening. But there are several issues on the horizon that Harshberger presented.
The township is growing, and the number of officers won’t be able to keep up their current abilities without hiring more personnel, according to Harshberger. Predictable budget requirements are one thing, but unforeseen disasters – like the coronavirus pandemic – are just as hard to budget for as to predict. The
“Strategically, I think we need to be careful at the start of the millage, to make sure that we do build up the rainy day fund, so that we’re still able to operate public safety services … hire personnel [and] get equipment, because we don’t know what the future years are going to be from a forecast standpoint,”
Harshberger said, adding that additional spending would be “somewhat conservative to start, to make sure that we can last for ten years and still have enough money and [not have to] go back to the voters early.”
With multiple retirements on the horizon, the current $11 million budget just enough to skirt by on, and the grants that the township is using to keep the department going, Harshberger convinced the Trustees that more funding was necessary.
This millage would last ten years and go into effect in 2022. If the millage passes it will generate about $8 million per year, according to Township estimates. Part of the Department of Public Safety’s funding comes from the general budget.
The department is also going to be investing in a body worn camera system for all of its officers. The department is currently testing out half a dozen cameras from two different suppliers, to determine which system is best for them. Right now the decision will be between suppliers Axon or the Motorola product Watchguard.
Police worn body cameras came to national prominence in the last decade, as a response to accusations of police brutality against People of Color, and as part of a general movement towards transparency and accountability, as well as being a tool for evidence collection. Some people have resisted cameras over privacy concerns, which has led to a scattershot map of local laws and court rulings.
“The reason that the township has waited this long to equip our personnel with body cams was to let the landscape with regard towards both national and state laws and statues settle down. We feel comfortable that we have reached such a landscape at this point,” Supervisor Mandy Grewal said.
The extra money would allow Pittsfield Township to hire more officers, to both allow the number of officers and civilian employees to keep up with the number of citizens over the next decade. The department is already attempting to get around a lack of applicants by partnering with Washtenaw Community College.
Harshberger also presented the findings of a survey
of 300 residents, which showed positive reviews for the department. Three quarters of the respondents reported good interactions with the department, according to the survey. The survey also found that 83.4 percent of respondents were in favor of the police using body worn cameras.
The problem with it, said Trustee Linda Edwards-Brown is that the respondents demographics do not represent the demographics of Pittsfield Township.
“I think that one of the things we really need to do when we’re able to safely … is actually begin to meet with and talk to citizens face to face. There are a lot of folks who don’t trust systems, and we are a system. …. I don’t know why we had such a low response from our minority population,” Edwards-Brown said.
Edwards-Brown added that she did not know why this was, but finding out why and pursuing a more accurate survey of the public's perception of the Department of Public Safety is something she wants to tackle after the pandemic ends.
The comments attached to the survey included comments from anonymous responders on how people specifically answered questions. When asked about whether Pittsfield should make an effort to increase the diversity of its offers, several people said they were against it because they did not want to do that because it would “lower” the “standards” of policing.
“Diversity is important, but standards should not be lowered in [the] hiring practice,” One anonymous respondent said.
Other respondents gave similar quotes. But not all of them said that. Other respondents suggested going directly to colleges, or religious institutions, which the township is doing. Or others declined to comment.
When asked about this, Grewal emphasized the open, tolerant and inclusive culture in Pittsfield Township. The survey reported that 68.95 percent of respondents “agree or strongly agree that addressing equity gaps should be a priority for the department. This despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the respondents (77.5 percent) were Caucasian.”
“I want to believe that these are trolls,” Edwards-Brown said.