I had to really drum up interest a decade ago; nobody gave a rip,” says David Thacher of his course, “Thinking about Crime.” These days, there’s a lot more interest in public safety—at the Ford School and elsewhere.
Reflecting those concerns, the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) is dedicating its fall Michigan Public Policy Survey to the topic.
“We keep a long list of potential topics, and ask ourselves if the timing seems right to address them,” says Tom Ivacko (MPP ‘93), program manager of CLOSUP. “What’s been happening across the country in places like Ferguson and Baltimore certainly influenced our decision, and we wanted to know if there were any patterns or trends in the types of public safety challenges communities were facing.”
The survey, which is being sent to the top elected and appointed officials in each of Michigan’s 1,856 jurisdictions, addresses fire services, emergency response services, and law enforcement services alike.
Some of the survey questions assess the basics.
“Public safety is one of the fundamental responsibilities of local government, and makes up a very significant portion of local government budgets,” says Ivacko. So the survey asks jurisdictions if they have sufficient resources for the services they offer, if they’ve tried to raise additional resources, and if they offset any of their service expenses with cost recovery policies or fees.
A number of questions focus on fire services, or medical services—which represent big challenges for some local jurisdictions. But about 30 percent of the questions address law enforcement issues, which have become increasingly momentous in the wake of the tragic deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and others. Leaders will be asked if people in their jurisdictions feel safe, if inappropriate use of force is an issue, if citizens trust their police, if police are overly strict in enforcing the law, if police morale has declined, and more.
They’ll also be asked if their law enforcement departments have adopted, or are likely to adopt, citizen satisfaction surveys; citizen’s advisory committees; training programs for officers; new surveillance equipment; crime mapping technologies; and other new tools, practices, or policies.
“It will be interesting to learn how these national incidents are being processed in Michigan,” says Thacher. “Are they shaping thought in Muskegon? What are local leaders doing in response?”
Survey results are expected to be released in January. Questions, results, policy briefs, and data tables will be available at closup.umich.edu/michigan-public-policy-survey.
Below is a formatted version of this article from State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View the entire Fall 2015 State & Hill here.