Hancock City Council member discusses police budget, police department responds

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HANCOCK, Mich. (WJMN) – At last week’s regular meeting, the Hancock City Council met to discuss the city’s upcoming fiscal year of 2020-2021.

A topic of discussion that was brought up by some community members was the police budget and the “Defund the Police” movement.

“Defund the Police” means reallocating funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality. These do not include agencies such as school systems, childcare, or private sectors such as healthcare.

Due to the new fiscal year approaching on July 1, the majority of the council decided to pass the full budget of the police department.

“Now that budget can be amended throughout that fiscal year and that’s something council will be doing and perhaps the police budget I think is going to be one of the things we will be looking at for sure during the next fiscal year,” said City Council Member John Haeussler. “But making a change without actually fully understanding all the ramifications, and all the components of it didn’t feel right last week.”

The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year for the Hancock Police Department is $858,000.
An estimated $440,000 goes toward staff wages and salaries, $264,000 for staff benefits, and $98,000 for retirement funds. The rest of the money goes toward computers, software, uniform allowance, vehicle requisitions/repair/maintenance, equipment rentals, professional development/training, etc. Haeussler said this leaves little room to make major cuts.

“If you really want to talk about making a financial impact, you have to talk about reducing the total salary cost, and that really means to me reducing the number of hours and reducing the number of overtime hours and I think that’s a good conversation to have. Most importantly that’s a conversation that needs to involve the police chief because as the legislative body of the community, what we can’t do is just say ‘We’re going to cut you by a certain amount of dollars.’ We really need to sit down and say ‘How can you efficiently run your department if we were to reduce your budget by this amount? And can it be done within the context of the current collective bargain agreements [between unions]?'”

The Hancock Police Department currently has eight full-time employees for its population of about 4,600 people.

“Within the volume of staffing, Hancock is probably already at certainly around the median as far as police department employees relative to population. But, probably a little bit lower staff on average than of most U.P. cities,” said Haeussler.

Haeussler expects a deeper conversation about the police budget between the city council, city manager, and the Hancock chief of police sometime in the Fall.

“We have to direct this municipality, globally, in the best interest of our citizens and we have to keep that in mind. We need to understand what the ramifications are of our decisions before we can really make our decisions.”

Hancock Police Chief Wayne Butler was not available for comment at the time of the publication of this story.

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UPDATE 6/24/20: On Wednesday evening, the Hancock Police Department sent out a press release with a statement in regard to the city council meeting last week. Below is the full email and statement:

The Hancock Police Department members, who are affiliated with both Unions ( Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)), would like to respond to statements made at the June 17th Hancock City Council meeting regarding the comments about “defunding the police”, in addition to the comments made to and in the Daily Mining Gazette.

Since the council meeting and the comments made, the department members feel no support from our elected city officials. Instead of a show of support after the comments were made to “defund the police”, we feel like we’ve been largely thrown under the bus with no legitimate reason to look into cutting our funding.  There have been no complaints or incidents of police brutality committed by any member of this department.  We didn’t hear of any discussion related to cutting funding to any other Hancock City departments, making us feel the Police Department is being unjustly targeted.

In fact, the Hancock Police Department is very community supportive, with officers regularly going above and beyond what’s expected to assist our residents. The officers work 24 hours a day to help keep the community safe, dealing on a regular basis with medical calls, deaths, accidents, domestic violence situations, the list goes on and on, to include unlocking your vehicle when you lock your keys inside. Most of our work is rarely known by the community as a whole, as most cases are handled in a discreet manner.

We knew coming into this job that there’s rarely praise (not expected), and we may get a thank you time by time, but to not have the support of our elected city council hurts the most.

Attached is a letter composed by all the members of the Police Department which may help you realize what the officers are feeling. The department is always open…please stop by to meet your officers and get to know them and what they do instead of simply giving in to the anti-police movement and promising to look into ways to cut our funding. 

Please note: Although this email is being sent from Lt. Outinen’s account, this is the response of the department as a whole as indicated by the attached letter.

From: The Hancock City Police Department

To: The Hancock City Council

Dear Hancock City Council Members:

We officers of the Hancock Police Department would like to express great disappointment in a couple Councilmembers comments made at the June 17th Hancock City Council meeting.

Working directly and continuously with people during this COVID-19 pandemic and the recent events nationwide attacking the police profession has been very draining on the members of the department, but the officers continue to serve this community proudly and professionally, without question, just as we were trained and hired to do. 

Two or three people called into the council meeting to “defund the police”.  Instead of showing support and commitment to the police department, Councilman Lytle’s comments to review and cut the police budget in an apparent effort to appease these few peoples request is very demoralizing to each and every member of this department.  In recent decades, to any current officers knowledge, there have been no reports of police brutality or abuse of power against any member of the department.

Over the years, the police department budget has already been cut to the bare minimum, struggling to provide 24 hour coverage 365 days a year, having to rely heavily on part time officers to fill the gaps. At the moment, again we’re down to 1 part time officer, and as you’re aware by recent requests to add a full-time officer, part time officers have been difficult to find and retain. This anti-police movement will make finding good qualified part-time officers even more of a challenge.

We at the Hancock Police Department have worked hard the past few years to become a progressive, pro-active police agency. Many community members and the other local police agencies have commented on the increased visibility in the community and the positive direction we’ve taken.

From a Daily Mining Gazette article dated June 23rd

“I know that given world events right now it’s easy to look at the world we live in and the world that we want, but if you look at the City of Hancock, over the last thirteen years or so, the police department has already had a negative budgetary impact,” said Haeussler.

Really? We’d ask in what way? What department in the city doesn’t have some negative impact on the budget?  To single out the police budget seems unjustified.

The same Daily Mining Gazette article further reads…

While the council voted to approve the budget as it was without changing the police budget, members of the council did say that they were open to addressing the police budget in different ways. Haeussler advocated for enacting funding changes “by attrition” by not filling potentially unnecessary staff positions as they arise rather than reducing staff all at once.

Funding changes “by attrition” by not filling potentially unnecessary staff positions…

As explained already, the current staff is struggling to fill shifts 24 / 7 / 365… all positions are necessary.

We officers of the Hancock Police Department question why does it appear that only the Police budget is being targeted?

The Police Department respectfully asks the City Council to commit to supporting the police department and not “defund the police”, but to seek a way to increase funding to hire and retain another full-time officer, which would eliminate the need for part-time officers and enable the department to fulfill our obligations to the community in a more proficient way without constantly manipulating our schedules.

Chief Wayne Butler, Lieutenant David Outinen, Sergeant Brent Isaacson, Sergeant Darick Coponen, Officer Jeremy Lassila, Officer Ryan LaBerge, Officer Becky Bramlett, Officer Donny Lusty, Part time Officer Betsy Baril

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