MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich.—With 10 homicides last year, and 3 homicides this year, people in the Muskegon Heights community are fed up with the violence, and pleading for change for safer neighborhoods. Now local and state authorities are taking action to make that happen.
Muskegon Heights Police Department is made up of 18 officers in charge of 10,000 people in a 4 mile square radius, but the violence in that area has far exceeded what they can handle according to data collected by the FBI. Michigan State Police will have 5 troopers and a sergeant dedicated to their area to help alleviate some of the work. Muskegon Heights Police Departments hopes that the larger police presence will allow them to focus on their emergency calls and investigations. Citizens tell Fox 17 News that it will take more than police to fix their streets.
“I don't think you can police your way out of this, or that we can arrest our way out of this. I think we need to develop the lives of people,” said Pastor Samuel Greer.
Greer decided to attend a Safety Discussion held by the Michigan State Police and Muskegon Heights Police at Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Church on Monday night. Greer has been part of the Muskegon Heights community for more than 25 years, and he`s seen violence escalate over the years. Greer said the solution is more than a big police presence.
“I think the essence of it is that we have seen the breakdown of a family.We've seen unemployment. I think we need to be inventing jobs, coming up with employment, continuing education. We need to bring meaning to life. I think it will go a long way down the road,” said Greer.
Greer said Monday’s public forum could be a turning point. He says these conversations are the start of a long road to solve some of the city’s problems. Greer does not believe arrests along will make a difference, but he knows it could start to mend relationships if police reach out to citizens in a positive way.
“More man power is only part of it, but there has to be a foundation built between citizens and police,” said Muskegon Heights Police Chief Lynne Gill.
Michigan State Police are trying to make a Muskegon Heights a ‘secure’ city. They will have 5 full time troopers and one sergeant. They will be there indefinitely until they see changes in the community.
“If you look at Ferguson or Baltimore there was a breakdown in communication between their local and state law enforcement, so our goal today is to sit at the table, and have a honest and open dialogue,” said MSP Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue.
Col. Etue said one discussion won’t solve all the problems overnight, but could be a beginning to something that could over time changing Muskegon Heights.
‘I think anytime that there's dialogue it will help move a situation, so I welcome participation I welcome conversation,” said Pastor Greer.
The MSP officers will be there to help alleviate the 18-person Muskegon Heights Police Department.
“There`s a breakdown in law enforcement where people distrust law enforcement, and we’ve had a hand in it to be honest,” said Chief Gill.
Gill has been the chief of Muskegon Heights for over 25 years, and he said there's a lot of work to be done. This isn’t the first city that the state has helped to make a ‘secure’ one.
“Less than five years ago Michigan had five of the most deadly cities in the nation. We had Flint, Saginaw, Detroit, and Pontiac. We deemed that a secure cities partnership. I don`t think any law enforcement agency has all the resources they need,” said Col. Etue.
The phrase ‘secure’ city was coined by Snyder.
“What it is, is that we are going to make that city secure so the economy can flourish and people can feel safe to let their kids out to play, go shopping, and just do everything that a community needs to do,” said Col. Etue.
MSP will be a preventive force patrolling the areas, so that the Muskegon Heights Police Department can focus on their investigations and emergency calls.
“Of course we are still going to do what police do. We are still going to investigate burglaries, and larcenies. We are going to spend more time investigating those things,” said Chief Gill.
Chief Gill said it's no secret that police and citizen relationship is damaged. The increased police presence is not to scare people, but just the opposite, to provide an opportunity for that relationship to heal.
“I am positive it can happen. I look forward to this one because I am looking for interaction and feedback from the public so we can move forward,” said Chief Gill.