By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – Mayor Wheeler Marsee and Police Chief Dan Jones strongly refuted negative statements made by Sgt. Matthew Furman at the Aug. 9 Public Safety Commission and the Aug. 17 City Council meeting.
Furman and other officers spoke about police officer recruiting and retention challenges, excessive mandatory overtime, outdated equipment and the need for repairs in the Police Department building.
Marsee and Jones, who were on vacation during the two August meetings, both spoke at the Sept. 7 council meeting, addressing specific claims voiced earlier by Furman and select other Melvindale police officers. Furman did not attend the Sept. 7 meeting.
Marsee said he did his own checking based on the statements of Furman and others and said he wanted to “set the record straight.”
He said that when he was a member of the Public Safety Commission before becoming a council member and mayor, Melvindale went from a ranking of 125 out of 422 cities in Michigan, with 1 being the safest, to a 50 out of 422 ranking.
“I commend all of our public safety commissioners and I commend the efforts of our Melvindale Police Department,” Marsee said. “Where we got sidetracked and said that this city is unsafe is terribly beyond me. I am just befuddled by that.”
He said he believed the city faced an injustice at the last meeting amid the claims that the Police Department is in crisis.
“It is a national problem that we don’t have (enough) police officers,” he said. “Not a state problem and not a Melvindale city problem.”
Jones said the city’s police officers have not been put in an unsafe position, and the Public Safety Commission and City Council have supported the Police Department and the Police Department supports them.
He said the department is at a critical level for staffing. He said the department operates comfortably when it has 21 police officers, and said the department is now down to 15 officers.
“This is not a unique problem to Melvindale,” Jones said. “Everyone is short officers.”
He said statewide retirements and officers leaving the field of law enforcement have left many departments short-handed.
Jones said that until recently, the Melvindale Police Department has been able to hire and retain officers.
“In the last two years, due to officer staffing shortages everywhere, other departments have gone to great lengths to attract officers to their departments,” he said. “More money and benefits have taken many officers from here. It is a free market system, and people go where they feel they will be more financially rewarded.”
Jones said lateral pay increases at other police departments may influence some officers to move to other departments.
“In the end, speaking to the officers and to the council, I think the main thing is that the officers want to be comparable so they can attract and maintain standing,” he said. “There have been comments made in the past meetings that alluded that the public is not safe and crime is higher due to our department’s short-staff.
“Mandatory shift staffing per shift has not changed, and every shift in this department – days, afternoons and midnights – had minimum amounts of officers before I started, and has people on that shift to maintain control, and that has not changed one single bit.”
Jones said officers are working overtime to cover these shifts, but citizens are not being denied any coverage.
“There are times when we are temporarily not available, for numerous different reasons,” he said. “We relied and have used in the past, if there was a critical incident, mutual aid with all of Downriver and with Dearborn. If we needed them, they’d come.”
Jones said the Police Department has relied on mutual aid for support every year that he has been with the department, which he acknowledged did need to be addressed.
He said that there has been no rise in crime within the city of Melvindale, that response time for calls has been consistent and that the police station is not so run down that it needs to be condemned.
He said they have been able to get grants to get equipment and that they have new computers that are awaiting installation.
Jones said training has been mostly online instead of live because of COVID-19.
“There is no vast increase in crime and our numbers are compatible with our previous past four years and that is what I am showing you in these charts here,” Jones said to the council. “There is no huge increase. The numbers are right there.”
Jones said that Melvindale has a Public Safety Commission meeting at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13, at which the department’s challenges will be further addressed.