By Jan Worth-Nelson
As the city adapts to effects of the coronavirus pandemic and prepares for the summer, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley and key representatives of local law enforcement convened via Zoom today in a press conference, announcing that while homicides have ticked up, the city of Flint’s overall crime rate is down slightly, and response time by the Flint Police Department has declined by 40 percent.
Neeley reported there have been 14 homicides so far this year, compared to 12 at the same time in 2019, ending with a total of 43 for the year. The difference this year, Neeley said, included a triple and double homicide.
According to information provided by the city, since the same time last year, burglary-forced entry has decreased 19 percent; criminal sexual conduct cases are down 14.3 percent; burglary without forced entry is down 31.43 percent, theft from a building is down 38 percent, overall property crimes are down 9 percent and overall total crime is down 2 percent over the same time last year.
Pandemic affects lockdown capacity
The pandemic has had at least one notable effect on local law enforcement, Flint Police Chief Phil Hart said. With the advent of state mandated restrictions, the city’s lockup, a short-term retention space operated by the Sheriff’s Department, has been closed down, “severely restricting” who can be detained at the county jail.
“If all we can do is write an appearance ticket and kick someone loose, the fear of being held for what they’re doing at the time diminishes,” he said. “If you allow even the slightest crime to transpire, then how about the more severe ones. If you’re letting people loose, there is less fear because we can’t get them lodged,” he said, adding that officers are seeing the same people over and over again.
He said because of requirements of the Michigan Department of Correction and State Supreme Court, the number of inmates has declined at the Genesee County Jail from a population of well over 600 to about 390.
“Our intel section is looking into every case to see if it has any impact from the releases that have been mandated,” Hart said.
Response time “continuously drecreasing”
Devon Bernritter, FPD deputy police chief, clarified the average response time has decreased from 29 minutes last June to July, to 17 minutes in April — a “continuous reduction since last summer.”
“We’re sitting at numbers we have not had in a decade,” Bernritter said, adding a call for “a tip of the cap” to “the men and women who police this community” and saying they “deserve all of the credit for what they do every day.”
Marjory Raymer, the city’s communication director, emphasized the response time cited is an average, and would of course be dependent on the severity and what law enforcement identifies as “priority one” incidents.
Neeley said Bernritter and others in the FPD had “regalvanized and redeployed our troops to better respond–assigning more officers to route patrol rather than specialized assignments.”
Neeley said response time by the Flint police is “the best I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”
Curfew being enforced by persuasion, not citation
Regarding the city’s “pandemic” curfew of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. which was instituted April 2 in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay at home regulations and has been extended to May 28, Neeley said no citations have been issued to curfew violators so far.
Theoretically, violating the curfew is a misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.
But he said said most people responded to persuasion and no arrests have been made.
Still, the curfew has “saved lives,” Neeley said, by preventing people from congregating and putting them in danger of spreading the virus.
“This virus respects no boundaries, no borders — those of us who are responsible have to help those who aren’t responsible,” he said.
While Neeley said some with “nefarious intent” might take advantage of the mask-wearing requirement, overall the state’s mandated policies and the curfew have helped safeguard Flint lives.
Efforts to renew cooperation among law enforcement entities described
The main purpose of the press conference, according to the city’ advance notice, was to announce a renewed coordination of efforts to fight crime in the city.
Neeley stated city officials have been focusing on “renewed cooperative relationships” between the FPD and other arresting and policing authorities–the Michigan State Police, Mott Community College, the University of Michigan – Flint, and, he added, the faith-based community.
Zooming in at the press conference in addition to Neeley, Hart and Bernritter were:
–Michigan State Police Flint Post Commander First Lt. Yvonne Brantley,
–University of Michigan – Flint Police Chief Ray Hall
–Mott Community College Police Chief Michael Odette
–Pastor Jeffrey Hawkins of Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church and a mediator called upon in various law enforcement situations.
“We’ve asked our law enforcement partners to take a little extra on, especially around their campuses, so that our forces can be deployed as needed,” he stated.
“We are taking crime very seriously at all levels, from illegal dumping to surrounding all those that have nefarious intent — we’re going to stump it out wherever we find it,” Neeley said.
“We can’t wait for things to be out of control before we try to figure out ways toward a better unified effort to take better control of our crime element in the city,” he said.
Hart said as a result of enhanced coordination, more people are out on route patrol. He said as recently as the Family Dollar homicide, the UM – Flint was “instrumental in assisting us.”
And Hart said Chief Odette, who has been on the job at Mott for just eight weeks, continues “a longstanding relationship” with the FPD.
Brantley said coordination between the MSP and the Flint Police Department is “phenomenal.” She said the MSP has been able to contribute in two aspects: road patrols and doing proactive policing to get guns and drugs off the street.
Comparing law enforcement to a choir, Neeley said, “We’re all harmonizing on the great song of crime reduction in our community.”
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.