Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series of in-depth reporting by ELi on the City of East Lansing’s budget for Fiscal Year 2024.
East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson teared up while praising the work of his department’s personnel during his recent budget presentation to the City Council.
“The men and women here are just doing a great job,” he said. “I tell them to get out, walk the beat, get downtown and they do what they’ve got to do,”
Johnson was able to quickly recover before taking questions from Council.
“This happens all the time, don’t worry,” he said with a laugh.
During the city’s annual springtime budget talks, directors of the larger departments are asked to present to Council about their departments. Johnson’s presentation sought to justify his ask for approximately $13.5 million for the 2024 fiscal year (FY) by showing Council what the department is doing and explaining why it needs the funding.
During the presentation on April 25, Johnson highlighted several new positions the department would be creating, outlined accreditation and trainings the department received, gave an update on the usage of the police social worker and more.
Johnson’s presentation was supplemented by a four-page “Police Operations” summary in the budget materials. ELi has extracted that presentation and readers can find it here.
The “goals and objectives” of the department for the coming year include a long list, including getting more officers into the pipeline, working more closely with ASMSU, the MSU Black Student Alliance and faith-based organizations, improving officers’ capacity to serve BIPOC, LGBTA+, immigrant, senior and student communities, and establishing a full-time Downtown Business Officer and Youth Engagement Officer.
The department is also “taking steps to research, develop and implement an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program” in order to help locate missing persons, investigate serious crimes and accidents, and “provide heightened security measures at planned and unplanned events.”
ELPD staffing is going up, and that includes 10 more sworn officers since two years ago.
ELPD’s staffing has gone up for the last several years, surging from 41 sworn officers in FY22 (July 2021-June 2022) to a plan for 51 sworn officers in FY24 (July 2023-June 2024). That represents a 24% increase.
The number of other staff in ELPD has also been increasing, going up from 22 in FY22 to a proposed 31 in FY24, for an increase of 41%.
In terms of the support staff, the increases are being seen in the number of part-time PACE officers and part-time Neighborhood Resource Specialists (NRSs).
But there are also changes in how ELPD is doing its work, as Johnson told Council.
ELPD is creating special roles for designated officers, and the PEACE team is bridging departments.
The Proactive Engagement and Community Enhancement (PEACE) team was formed last year after a string of unusual violent events downtown. The team is a partnership between ELPD and the Michigan State University Department of Police and Public Safety (MSU DPPS).
The team of four officers work 12-hour shifts, often on weekends, to address some of the city’s most pressing concerns. Johnson said the team uses crime analysis to see where they are most needed. They also use tactics like unmarked cars and plainclothes shifts that most officers do not use.
“This team has been very effective,” Johnson told Council.
He continued on to say that the PEACE Team works to give back to grow a strong relationship with the community. He gave as an example that the officers gave money to a homeless man and held a coat drive.
Johnson said starting in mid-May, Officer Katey Harrison will be designated as the Downtown Business Officer. Harrison will work full-time to address some of the concerns about safety in the downtown area.
“She has a great personality, I think she’s going to work really well with the businesses and with the residents who live downtown,” Johnson said.
Seeking to work in conjunction with the East Lansing Fire Department (ELFD) and the city communications department, Johnson said they would like to add a full-time Emergency Manager Public Educator.
Johnson said the confusion during the Michigan State University shooting showed a need for someone to communicate with the public during emergency situations. Additionally, he said the employee could ensure the police department is using consistent messaging across social media platforms.
As another component to improving community relations, Johnson said the department will be designating a Youth Engagement Officer to work with area youth and young adults. He said he envisions the officer as a contact person who young people can reach out to if they need assistance.
“My goal is to try to get the youth [to] engage police in a positive manner,” Johnson said. “They can see us in a different light, instead of an enforcement light.”
Responding to a suggestion from Councilmember Dana Watson that officers go to sports practices to meet some of the area youth, Johnson said this is the type of behavior the department encourages.
“That is the answer, council person,” Johnson said. “We always tell them ‘Just get out of your car.’”
The department has attained full state accreditation and officers are taking part in training to help them be proactive in the community.
In February, ELPD became the 54th law enforcement agency in the state to become fully accredited through the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission, Johnson said. There are 622 law enforcement agencies in Michigan.
Johnson said the department must do “proofs” every year for the accreditation and that they must recertify every three years. He said ELPD is working with the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission to implement the 73 changes recommended in a CNA report in time for recertification.
Additionally, Johnson said the department is currently completing recertification for its Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) training. All employees with public contact have been ABLE certified. The training helps employees to determine when they should intervene and how to do so safely.
Responding to a suggestion from Watson that ELPD have officers peek into cars during school drop-offs to ensure child car seats are safely set up, Johnson said the department has a detective who is trained to do such a task and four more have expressed interest in being trained. However, he said ELPD would have to work with the schools to get permission to work on their property. (The current ELPS administration has been resistant to having police officers at the schools in some non-emergency circumstances.)
Johnson said ELPD is interested in setting up times for officers with car-seat-technician training to help the public learn how to properly set up and secure a car seat.
“We’ll be able to do more of the proactive measures,” he said.
ELPD will also be one of three police departments to participate in the Crime Analyst in Residence (CAR) program. The federally-funded grant program will pair ELPD with experts in crime analysis to train three civilian employees.
The training will take about six months to complete and help to develop policies and procedures on gathering and analyzing data in the hope of finding more effective ways to reduce crime. ELPD is one of two departments in Michigan to receive the grant for the training.
Johnson also said the department will continue to receive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training, and he hopes to make it a “cultural” part of the department instead of just another process employees must go through.
Chief Johnson is glad to have a social worker on board and hopes to add at least one more.
Watson asked Johnson about the department’s decision to use its social worker during day shifts, instead of at night when they could be more in demand. Johnson confirmed the social worker typically works day shifts but does one night shift each month.
Johnson said the department has been searching for a second social worker, but it is difficult to find someone properly trained in the field who wants to work for a police department. If ELPD does find a second social worker, they would primarily work afternoon shifts, Johnson said.
Johnson clarified that ELPD officers are getting much better at taking referrals from people who may need assistance when the social worker is off duty. The social worker then follows up on these referrals when they come in for their next shift.
“The amount of work that we’re answering is phenomenal,” he said. “Our officers are buying into what’s going on because the social worker is taking work off their plate.”
Johnson said he has been so pleased with the social worker that after the department adds a second social worker, they may look for a third.
ELPD is also in talks with MSU DPPS and ELFD to create a mobile crisis response team that would include a social worker and crisis intervention team trained officers.
The budget presented shows a decrease in the “ask,” but the total costs aren’t really going down.
The summary budget request for FY24 (shown here) shows a decrease of $570,130 over the amended budget for FY23, a decrease of 4%. But the narrative included with the materials indicates the apparent decrease in total costs is really due to a change in how the supplemental payment to the pension fund is being handled.
According to the provided narrative, “Wages in FY2024 are expected to increase with the recent hiring of seven police officers [filling vacancies left by resignations and retirements] and the addition of two [new] Police Officers, a part-time PACE Officer, and a Neighborhood Resource Specialist. Also, an Emergency Management Public Educator position was added, [the cost of which] will be shared between the communications, police, and fire departments. Overtime costs will remain high as the current staffing levels make it challenging to meet the increased need for services, such as [Albert] EL Fresco, MSU events, DDA concerns, and increased safety measures due to more serious crimes, increased calls for service, and other City related events.”
So, the total cost of policing is in fact going up. Why does it look like the cost is going down?
Responding to questions from ELi, Deputy Finance Director Audrey Kincade explained that the income tax revenue has been steadily increasing, which means more and more of the supplemental pension fund payments are coming out of the income tax fund instead of the ELPD budget.
It used to be the case that some of the supplemental pension fund payment to meet the City’s contribution goal of $5 million per year would come through both the ELPD and the ELFD budgets. But for the FY24 budget, that’s changed.
Now, Kincade explains, “the entire amount needed from the General Fund to make that goal contribution was budgeted in the Fire Department.”
As a result, the police department’s budgeted supplemental contribution decreased from $800,000 in FY23 to zero for FY24.
“That decision,” said Kincade, “was based on the relative funding ratios of the police versus fire pension divisions.”
Correction, May 9, 9:30 p.m.: When originally published, this article indicated Council was expected to vote on the budget on May 9. The May 9 meeting included a public hearing, but the vote will be on May 23.