Would you rather keep cleaning off oily ducks or stop the oil spill?
Yesterday, at a press conference in Flint, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder unveiled a plan titled “A Special Message from Governor Rick Snyder: Public Safety”. You can read his Special Message in its entirety HERE (pdf) and an Executive Summary HERE.
I’m ambivalent about his proposals. Michigan has four cities — Flint, Detroit, Pontiac and Saginaw — which are ranked among the top 10 most violent cities in the country according to FBI data. Clearly our citizens must be protected from criminal behavior and violence. To do this, more cops are needed. More up-to-date law enforcement tools are needed. More efficient and effective courts are needed.
Governor Snyder’s plan has all of these. And that’s good. I commend him for it and I’m thankful. I’m particularly happy to see a focus on the relationship between mental health problems and crime and the need to address this in a proactive, compassionate way.
However, what’s missing from the proposal is the same thing that is missing from his plans to “fix” our failing cities that are facing financial emergencies: solid plans to invest in and revitalize our aging manufacturing centers. If we don’t do this, the rest of it is band-aids on a gaping wound.
During his press conference, Governor Snyder said, “We want to create an environment where Michiganders can feel good about coming downtown for dinner. You want them to go to the ball game and have fun.”
Of course, this is true. But more cops on the beat is only a part of creating this environment. Arguably, it should be a minor part if we’ve done what we should to help lift our failed urban areas.
In his 15-page “Special Message”, 3 pages are devoted to “Crime Prevention”. It starts out with this statement:
Public safety must begin with crime prevention. Crime prevention starts with strong communities. In addition to law enforcement, our crime fighters range from parents, to teachers, to responsible landlords to engaged employers.
Crime occurs in communities that lack educational and career opportunity – where children and parents alike – are unable to see a bright future for themselves. And it occurs in neighborhoods with blighted buildings that too often become drug houses or fire hazards.
Unfortunately, while this section has a lot of words, it has little of substance. In it, he offers only four positive, non-punitive new initiatives. The first is the “Community Ventures” initiative that charges the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) with creating a public-private partnership to create new jobs and training opportunities.
The second is another MEDC venture along with the Michigan Corps and Accelerate Michigan “to develop a new social entrepreneurship business competition”.
The third and final piece is that he’s directing the Department of Natural Resources “to build new partnerships with recreation centers and organizations” in hard-hit cities to help teens find opportunities for work in the state park system.
The final piece is a program to put more social workers into schools in Flint, Detroit, Pontiac, and Saginaw to help combat problems leading to truancy.
I’m not knocking any of these things. Honestly, they’re great. They just seem so tepid, particularly in light of his statement at the beginning of the Special Message that “we need to reinvent public safety for Michigan” and “pursue a strategy of smart justice that is data driven, comprehensive and focused on the areas of the greatest need”.
When Governor Snyder talks about “reinventing Michigan”, my sincerest hope is that will somehow involve revitalizing our cities, schools and communities. Instead, what I see too often are measures that punish the hardest hit and reward those that are doing well.
When our schools are failing, this leads to a lack of improvement from year to year. Governor Snyder’s approach is to penalize them by reducing their funding.
When our cities are failing, this leads to corruption, blight and crime. Governor Snyder’s approach is to reduce their funding and putting them under a dictator.
Even in this Special Message families with students that are truant become ineligible for temporary cash assistance. While this may sound good to you, it fails to recognize that, in many cases, the problems in such a family are so profound that dealing with truancy is low on the priority list. Taking away their financial lifeline is like stepping on the fingers of someone clinging to a cliff edge for dear life.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a governor who sees things in this way. He sees things as business problems to be solved by allocation of resources that enhance the bottom line in the short term. What Michigan most desperately needs at this moment in time is a leader with a longer term vision who is willing to be bold and show leadership in investing in our failing urban cities.
Governor Snyder is clearly not that leader.
[Photo credit: Anne C. Savage. Used with permission.]