Corporatism, Detroit — August 8, 2013 at 8:47 am

Detroit Emergency Manager Orr painting a much bleaker picture than reality suggests


Detroit ruin porn from the Emergency Manager???

One of the most widely reported statistics about Detroit, thanks to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, is that it takes, on average, 58 MINUTES FOR THE COPS TO ARRIVE OMG OMG OMG!!! It’s all over the news, Stephen Colbert had fun with it, and it’s giving people everywhere comfort in the fact that over half of the African Americans in Michigan are no longer enjoying democracy at the local because their city government has been taken over by a state-appointed Emergency Manager.

There’s just one problem with that SHOCKING STATISTIC OMG OMG OMG!!!:

It’s not true.

[Detroit Police Chief James] Craig said police respond much quicker than the reported 58 minutes. For years, police response time in Detroit was counted from the time a resident first places a 911 call, while most law enforcement agencies start the clock after dispatchers assign the call to officers. Craig said he isn’t sure why Detroit deviated from the standard method of counting response time.

Craig said dispatchers often spend several minutes trying to get information from callers, which doesn’t reflect how long it takes officers to get to crime scenes.

“We’ve changed that,” Craig said. “Now, we’re in line with most other agencies in that we start the clock when the dispatcher assigns the run to an officer.”

Prior to revamping the dispatch system, Detroit counted many non-life-threatening 911 calls as emergencies, including break-ins, burglar alarms and other crimes with no immediate life-threatening danger, Craig said. About half of all calls were classified as emergencies, the new chief said.

A close examination of “life-threatening emergency” calls revealed it took police an average of 15 minutes to respond — a figure Craig said he hopes to whittle down to 7-8 minutes.

15 minutes. That’s a very far cry from the 58 MINUTES FOR THE COPS TO ARRIVE WHEN YOU NEED THEM OMG OMG OMG!!! number Orr has been using.

Orr is not only blaring out this faulty statistic, he seems to have pulled the so-called national average response time of 11 minutes out of thin air:

Orr said in his report that the national average for police response was 11 minutes, but it’s uncertain where that statistic came from. Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling, did not respond to requests to explain how Orr arrived at those numbers.

There is no known national average for police response times, said Robert Stevenson, president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

“I’m not aware of any national stat or recommendation as far as response time,” Stevenson said. “There are too many variables involved which make it difficult to say what an ideal response time should be.”

It’s not just this SHOCKING STATISTIC OMG OMG OMG!!! that Orr is using to paint such a dire picture about Detroit. He also claims that the retiree pension fund is underfunded by $3.5 billion (OMG OMG OMG!!!)

That, apparently, isn’t true either.

Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager, has estimated the underfunding of the city’s two pension funds at $3.5 billion. The pension fund managers disagree, saying the funds are more than 90% funded, meaning that there are adequate resources to pay almost all future liabilities.

The Bond Buyer reported Friday that Morningstar, a major investment adviser, found that the actuarial assumptions made by the two pension funds to come up with their more optimistic assessment were in line with industry practice. […]

The Bond Buyer reported Friday that Detroit’s pensions funds have long been considered relatively well funded, at around 91%, largely because of a $1.5-billion pension certificate borrowing in 2005 and 2006.

But Orr has called into question the pension managers’ assumption of an 8% annual return on investment, its seven-year smoothing period — the period over which a pension fund recognizes market returns — and its 30-year amortization.

Orr has not revealed his revised assumptions, though he has said that a 7% return is more realistic, the Bond Buyer said. Morningstar said it considers the current pension assumptions to mostly fall within industry standards.

So Orr is moving the goalposts in order to make the pension fund look broke when, in fact, it’s not considered broke by the people who do this for a living.

Look, I get it that Detroit is in a major crisis. I do. I get that. But there isn’t any reason for Kevyn Orr to jump on the ruin porn train to make things look worse than they are unless he’s afraid that Detroit will be found not to actually be insolvent which puts his plan to take the city through bankruptcy in peril. There’s also the fact that wealthy, opportunistic vultures waiting in the wings to swoop in and exploit Detroit’s situation for their own financial gain. That means snapping up city assets at bargain basement prices and getting lucrative contracts when anything not nailed down gets privatized to for-profits corporations.

It also could mean that retirees see their pension checks slashed when it’s not necessary. These people rely on these checks to pay their mortgages, keep food on the table, and to pay their bills.

If this is what’s behind what appears to be an intentional overstatement of the crisis in Detroit, it’s shameful, harmful, and disgusting. It also means that we all need to be very, very vigilant.

Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog.