At its meeting on Tuesday, May 25, the East Lansing City Council voted through the Fiscal Year 2022 budget without any further discussion of the budget for the East Lansing Police Department (ELPD), despite Council members voicing considerable interest in ELPD’s proposed budget at their May 18 meeting.
East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson and City Manager George Lahanas said at Council’s May 18 meeting that ELPD is moving away from business as usual. In his remarks, Johnson said the force was moving from a “military mentality” toward a “guardian mentality.” Meanwhile, Lahanas noted the reduction in armed officers as well as the hiring of social workers for mental health-related calls and the hiring of unarmed Neighborhood Resource Specialists to help with neighborly disputes (like noise and trash issues.)
But Council members’ remarks on May 18 suggested that they felt that the ELPD budget is still reflecting reliance on using sworn officers with traditional policing tactics instead of really reimagining public safety.
The ELPD budget has been going down, absolutely and relatively, in the last three budget cycles.
The City’s budget materials from this year show that, for the last three budget cycles, ELPD expenditures have been going down both in absolute dollars and as a percentage of General Fund expenditures.
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The police budget will account for 31.7% of the city’s General Fund expenditures in the next fiscal year (July 2021 – June 2022). At the May 18 meeting, Council member Lisa Babcock suggested the Council take steps to further reduce the size of the ELPD budget for FY 2022, but that did not occur before the budget was passed.
The newest budget does not indicate a radical change in who is employed by ELPD and what they do.
According to the proposed and approved budget, over $10 million of ELPD’s budget – more than 87% of its approximately $12 million in expenditures – goes toward wages, overtime, insurance, and pensions, but the budget is presented in such a way that it is unclear who exactly is getting paid how much for what.
At the May 18 meeting, City Manager George Lahanas noted that the ELPD has reduced its sworn-officer count recently from 54 to 49 officers through “natural attrition,” meaning it has not hired new officers to replace those who have left. Instead, according to the City’s public staffing page, the City now has one social worker and three part-time Neighborhood Resource Specialists in order to “realign” ELPD by providing non-enforcement staff who can be sent to respond to calls made to the police.
It is unclear from the budget to what benefits the new hires might be entitled. The budget does demonstrate that the pay for fulltime employees has dropped by over $100,000 in total, while wages for part-time and contingent workers has gone up by nearly $40,000 in total from the last fiscal year.
Lahanas told Council on May 18 that the officer overtime pay budget has been reduced from $480,000 to $380,000.
In the next year, ELPD will not be paying any sponsorship for the police academy. In previous years, it had paid roughly $9,000 for cadet training.
In total, ELPD personnel expenditures have dropped by $942,029 since Fiscal Year 2020, and the overall budget has decreased by $833,655 since then.
At the May 18 meeting, Council focused its attention on ELPD’s operating expenses, which account for about $2.3 million of next year’s expenditures.
Council members questioned the “Civil Disorder Supplies” budget line, which Chief Johnson said encompasses costs of body armor, tear gas (which has a shelf life), and other equipment replacements. According to Johnson, many of these purchases are part of a routine contract or normal replacement schedule. For FY 2022, ELPD will spend $9,000 on these supplies, down from $12,000 the year before.
When asked by Mayor Aaron Stephens why tear gas was necessary for ELPD, Johnson explained that the policy of ELPD is not to use tear gas unless there is property destruction or violence occurring.
Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg asked if tear gas is considered humane, to which Johnson replied that tear gas is considered a “last resort.” Chief Johnson also explained how tear gas usage across police departments has been significantly cut back since the 1980s. On this point, Stephens said that he would like for the police to never use tear gas in East Lansing, alternatively proposing city-official authorization before it could be used.
The “Use of Force Supplies” expenditure line, which encompasses costs for firearms, ammunition, and training once per year, also drew attention from Council on May 18. For FY 2022, ELPD will spend $48,600 on these expenses. For FY 2021, it spent $53,620, and $29,020 in FY 2020.
Johnson explained how many of the ammunition purchases are for training purposes – for firing weapons at the training range. Additionally, bodycams and bodycam holders fall into this category.
Recently, ELPD purchased external carriers to affix the body cameras police are required to wear. Chief Johnson explained how police these days wear two types of outer gear: one is the bullet proof vest and the other is an external carrier. Federal grants cover some of the cost of these things, but they do not cover the needed cyclical renewal of equipment.
On this point, Stephens pushed police not to turn off cameras or allow any excuse for covered cameras, citing a recent incident when a raincoat covered a camera with little repercussion for the officer.
While it may appear that budgetary changes reflect “policing realignment” conducted since the murder of George Floyd, data made available to ELi through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request suggests that ELPD’s use of force and civil disorder expenses may have been on the decline before Council began its push for police reform.
Looking at the City’s payment register for FY 2019 and 2020, ELi could track some changes in payments to Kiesler Police Supply Inc., from which ELPD purchases equipment. Payments to Kiesler fluctuate from month to month, but since 2018 there has been a downward trend. In 2018, Kiesler received $20,881. In 2019, they received $10,694 and in 2020, $2,041.
ELPD’s budget now includes a line-item for community engagement, while other expenses have increased in the FY 2022 budget.
The FY 2022 budget includes $298,980 for “community engagement.” That is the category that includes the new unarmed personnel, including the social workers and Neighborhood Resource Specialists.
According to the budget, the cost of personal liability insurance and legal services for personnel matters have increased since FY 2020.
Dues and membership costs for police organizations have also increased, and according to ELi’s analysis of the City’s expenditures, memberships for police organizations account for approximately half of all funds the City spends on memberships for all City employees.
Alice Dreger contributed reporting on the size of the police budget relative to the General Fund.
This story was made possible by funding from the American Historical Association’s Career Diversity Program at the Michigan State University Department of History.