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Residents, council members: keep police department here

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette— Houghton resident Linda Kesti addresses the Houghton City Council in support of the local police department during Wednesday’s meeting.

HOUGHTON — Multiple Houghton residents Wednesday urged the City Council not to consider defunding the police department.

At the previous city council meeting, several activists had asked the City Council to consider beginning the process of shrinking the department to divert funds to other agencies in areas such as mental health and social work.

Linda Kesti suggested increasing the police department’s budget to allow for more training and equipment. Defunding local policies would be an incorrect “one-size-fits-all solution,” she said.

“Our local department does not use the methods used in the cities … The agencies that are getting the complaints need to analyze what is happening in their agency, and then use specific strategies to correct them,” she said. “To defund all departments is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

A letter from another resident said while some departments nationally have lost touch with their communities, Houghton’s department has a good record of community engagement at events such as Treat Street and reading at the Portage Lake District Library.

“On- and off-duty members of this department are compassionate and kind people who genuinely care about both members and visitors to our community,” the letter stated.

In his police report, Chief John Donnelly said he had talked with the Michigan Technological University students who had requested defunding at the previous meeting. The two-hour discussion was productive, he said,

“That was pretty exciting to be able to get my side of the story out,” he said. “I was able to learn from them, too, what they’re after. They assured me they’re not anti-police … they don’t want racism as a part of American culture, and I agree with that.”

They had requested the department begin with replacing one officer with a social worker, Donnelly said. Donnelly said that would lead to scheduling issues, as the department works 24 hours a day.

Donnelly also stressed the department’s collaborations with local agencies such as Dial Help and the Barbara Kettle Gundlach shelter.

Lt. Nick Roberts has been working to set up Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training on working directly with the mentally ill, Donnelly said.

Council members echoed the praise from residents.

“They do a fantastic job, and there’s other ways to go about fixing what these people are trying to fix without going directly after the police department,” Councilor Dan Salo said.

Councilor Buck Foltz, who has spent close to two decades working with at-risk populations, said with a chronically underfunded mental-health system, the police department has done a great job stepping in to assist in mental health and homelessness issues

“Our police department is the one working with the guys across the street (Dial Help), to help people who are finding things difficult in life because they don’t have a place to live, to find a place,” he said.

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