I-Team Report: MSP Patrols 5 years later - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report: MSP Patrols 5 years later

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

A call came out as an armed robbery of the Family Dollar on Flint’s north end and State Police Sgt. Don Zinz and Trooper Nick Olivo are the first on the scene.

Like many nights, their quick response from 3,000 feet above the city helps stop criminals in their tracks.

The state police helicopter patrols the skies over Flint and Saginaw five nights a week. It’s part of the Secure Cities Initiative.

“We don’t have those lines of sight limitations that they do. So, we can help them and it helps keep the officers a little safer,” Zinz said.

Gov. Rick Snyder launched the program five years ago in an effort to curb violence in the most crime ridden communities.

“Back in 2012, I looked at the numbers and we had four cities in the top 10 for the most violent in the United States. And that’s just not right,” Snyder said.

That’s when he assigned troopers to patrol Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac and Detroit. They work side-by-side with local officers.

The troopers work in the hot spots of violent crime. They perform routine traffic stops in search of wanted felons, drugs and illegal guns.

TV5 was there when Sgt. Jeff Juneac stopped a car and detained the passengers on suspicion of marijuana. The state police canine helped find the drugs.

“You can see the crime going down as a result of our efforts. And that makes a patrol sergeant feel good about what you’re doing, and what your squad’s doing; and every trooper out here trying to accomplish,” Juneac said.

TV5 found mixed opinions when they asked if state police troopers are best suited for the job.

Flint resident Franklin Thornton said, “As long as they’re doing the job. Like I said, I know they can’t catch everything, but they can stop a lot, I believe.”

“It’s different from having a regular police force. It feels invasive,” said Desiree Duell, Flint resident.

In 2014, a trooper assigned to Flint patrol got into an accident with a passerby while pursuing a suspect for a seatbelt violation. The accident killed 64-year-old Jacqueline Nichols.

Those opposed to the program said that crash is proof local control is the best approach.

“We work in a high risk, high liability occupation and those misfortunes happen and it’s the worst day of any trooper’s life,” MSP Col. Kriste Etue said.

Snyder said despite that tragedy, statistics show the program is working.

“If you look at Flint and Saginaw in particular, violent crime in that timeframe is down well over 30 percent. That’s a significant drop and that is far more if you look at the nation or other major communities," Snyder said.

The I-Team looked inside the numbers and found violent crime is down 43.1 percent in Flint and 39.3 percent in Saginaw in the past five years. 

“No police agency alone can stop it all. We have to depend on each other, work close together,” Etue said.

While the governor and the colonel said the program is working, there are some local leaders, like Flint Rep. Sheldon Neeley who question if the same results could come with local control. 

“It’s a de facto marshal law, it is. The troopers are a de facto martial law implemented by the governor in communities like Saginaw, Detroit, Flint and Pontiac," Neeley said.

Neeley believes the money put toward the Secure Cities Initiative would be better spent by local departments who have more ties to the community and better knowledge of the terrain. Many of those departments have been gutted by budget cuts.

“We’d much rather have local control. We’d much rather have our police chief, our local mayors, our local city councils governing our local law enforcement which follows the needs of the people,” Neeley said.

He said the troopers do not respond to service calls unless it is a violent crime. In many cases, residents wait for hours until a city officer is freed up.

The governor said the big advantage of the program is the troopers are not tied down by jurisdiction.

“It’s a state-wide police force. It’s mobile and flexible. So resources can be shifted to where they’re needed the most and hopefully they complement and then all the specialty services,” Snyder said.

As for the service calls, the governor said that the troopers were put in place to deal with the most violent offenders. That is their top priority.

Some residents said they are happy to have extra police patrols to keep them safe, regardless of the name on the badge.

“It gives me a little bit of extra security. Just for my own sake and my family’s sake, it’s nice to know there’s extra people out there,” said Steven Thiele, Flint resident.

While others would like to see their local guys, officers with ties to the community, patrolling their streets.

“I think that local police would be better, people that live in the area, who understand our community would be better dollars spent,” Duell said.

Etue said the evidence so far shows the Secure Cities Initiative is working, but their work is far from being done.

“The question is posed to me, you know, colonel, when are you going to leave these secure cities? And my answer is consistent. We will leave these cities when there’s no crime in these cities," Etue said.

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