It us unfair comparing Saginaw, Michigan to Ferguson, Missouri. The police departments are roughly the same size. The population in Saginaw and racial mix of people in the communities are similar. For me that is where the comparisons end.
I share my observations as a Presbyterian pastor who recently lived in the city Saginaw. I do not pretend to know that much about the police of Ferguson, MO. My observations are based on knowing several in the police community who exemplify the highest of standards and integrity in making law enforcement and public safety their choice for a career. While Saginaw has it’s fair share of racial tensions, I do believe the police department is diligent in working to bridge the gaps that exist between police and various groups of citizens. Some specific thoughts:
- Some police/public safety agencies have better relations with the citizens they protect than others. Some agencies will likely have higher levels of trust in their respective communities while others will be down further on the learning/trust curve. While the Saginaw Police Department is roughly the same size as Ferguson, MO, we have a department with a chief and officers now meeting regularly with neighborhood associations. [With Chief Brian Lipe leaving Saginaw, I hope this is an expectation placed on the new chief.]
- We may not have the racial diversity we would like in our Saginaw Police Department. I hear a commitment from the city council and city management that staffing at all levels within the city need to reflect the racial diversity found within the community. I appreciate hearing that the City Council is proactive in finding creative new ways to fill department vacancies with persons the city encourages to apply to the police academy.
- I believe diversity training has had a positive impact in closing the gap between minority groups in the city. Organizations like Parishioners on Patrol have made a significant difference in closing the racial gap that exists in the city. Parishioners on Patrol: http://popstopstheviolence.com/
- As the city moves forward, I hope the City Council and Management Team will be diligent in finding ways to provide incentives for police officers and their families to live in the city….those who wish to make the choice to live in the city.
A personal illustration: I made the decision almost 30 years ago that I wanted to live in the city where I was serving as a pastor. Now, given what is happening with taxes and depreciating housing stock and the public schools in crisis, I am not sure I would make the same decision. There are a host of positive things happening in the city culturally. At the same time, there are few stable and growing neighborhoods. New housing is a major issue. Compared to surrounding areas, housing and schools are, in my opinion, a key obstacle for people in making the decision to purchase a home in the city. Public safety, in my opinion, is improving.
- I have been reading about putting cameras on police officers. I believe cars already have cameras. This sure sounds like a good idea. Too many people are anxious to make accusations that can destroy a person’s career. Cameras would help avoid numerous frivolous law suits.
There was a time when I came to Saginaw in the 80’s that I would see a police car drive down my street on a daily basis. In recent years I understand police are working almost all the time responding to calls. The city needs more police.
Residents of the city of Saginaw need to renew the millage proposal being put before the citizens in November.
Disclaimer: For personal reasons, my wife and I made the decision to move out of the city. Once serving as a pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, my heart will always be in the city. I will continue to do business in the city.