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City Council raises non-issue to issue

HANCOCK — The Defund the Police movement currently sweeping the nation was a non-issue locally. That is, until the June 17 City Council meeting, when council members William Lytle and John Haeussler made it a topic for discussion when they threw their support behind two community members who called for defunding the city police department.

Lytle said in response that given the context, he thought it was an appropriate time to express the intent to manage these resources in a different way. Lytle went on to say that the city has a great police force and a great police chief who can help the council implement “these changes.” But Lytle did neither defined “the context,” nor outlined what the implemented changes would be.

Haeussler contributed to the discussion by making the remark that over the past 13 years, the police department has already had a “negative budgetary impact” on the city of Hancock.

The public comments by Lytle and Haeussler compelled the members of the Hancock Police Department to send an open letter, via email, to all the members of the city government, questioning whether the council members are aware of what the department does.

“The department is always open, please stop by to meet your officers,” the email advised, “and get to know them and what they do, instead of simply giving in to the anti-police movement and promising to look into ways to cut our funding.”

Lt. David Outinen said that as far as he is aware, very rarely if ever has a council member visited the department office, and as a result, many of the officers do not even know who the council members are.

Of the approximately 1,000 response calls since January 1, Lt. Outinen said, roughly only 10% of those were in relation to criminal activity, with the rest relating to civil matters, such as parking complaints, responded to calls of loose dogs, unlocking car doors, and even rounding up stray horses and cattle.

“Out of the criminal-related calls,” Lt. Outinen said, “we’ve got about 83 arrests at the moment (for the year to date).” Police blotter entries sent to the Daily Mining Gazette show most of these arrests to be for traffic law violations and intoxication.

The email stated that the Hancock Police Department has been very supportive of the community, “with officers regularly going above and beyond what’s expected to assist our residents. The officers work 24 hours a day to help keep the community safe, dealing on a regular basis with medical calls, deaths, accidents, domestic violence situations, the list goes on and on, to include unlocking your vehicle when you lock your keys inside. Most of our work is rarely known by the community as a whole, as most cases are handled in a discreet manner.”

In response to Haeussler’s comment on the police force posing a negative budgetary impact, the letter to the council searched for clarification, asking what department does not have some negative impact on a budget, and requesting justification for targeting the police budget for cuts.

Haeussler advocated an enactment of funding changes “by attrition,” by not filling “potentially unnecessary staff positions as they arise, rather than reducing staff all at once.” This was also addressed by the letter.

The current staff is already struggling to fill shifts 24 hours per day, every day, the letter stated. Such an action taken by the council would have a negative impact, not only on the city, but on the surrounding area, as well, particularly late at night.

The law enforcement agencies in the region, all of which are already stretched too thin, have a mutual aid pact.

Houghton, Hancock, and Michigan Tech police departments all rely on each other, Lt. Outinen pointed out, and quite often the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office has to pull their single night road vehicle for various reasons, including conducted mental health transports. Additionally, the Michigan State Police are typically off duty at 3 a.m., and at that time as well, due to staffing and budget issues, Hancock, Houghton, and MTU Public Safety have only one car on the road, for an area protecting more than 12,000 people.

“That’s just between Houghton and Hancock area,” Lt. Outinen said.

Lt. Outinen said that with the anti-police movement sweeping the country, for the council members too readily agreed with two callers on defunding the police, simply to appease them, left all the officers demoralized.

Haeussler did not reply for an interview request by the Daily Mining Gazette on Friday.

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