Pontiac, Michigan is recovering:
City officials signed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday to disband the Police Department and turn patrols in Pontiac over to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office as soon as December.
Faced with mounting red ink, the cash-strapped city of 66,000 residents has chipped away at its Police Department in recent years with layoffs and cutbacks that required help at times from Michigan State Police and the Sheriff’s Office just to keep road patrols operating.
“This is going to be very, very controversial,” said Pontiac Mayor Leon Jukowski. “We’ve known this could happen. It’s been discussed for some time, but the signing of the memorandum of understanding today makes it almost certain.
“By December, no later than January, we will no longer have a Pontiac Police Department, and our city’s public safety will be handed over to the Oakland County sheriff.”
Pontiac has suffered hugely from the collapse of the auto industry; a decade ago, the city housed a GM plant that employed tens of thousands of workers in an assembly line that produced trucks, motor homes, and buses. Since closing in 2005, that plant has been replaced with a vastly reduced facility that employs 1,000 workers.
Dismantling the police force is a terrible idea, but it's understandable; thanks to a vastly reduced tax base, Pontiac has a budget deficit of $12 million and a Depression-level unemployment rate of over 30 percent. Last year, to cope with a $10 million deficit, the school board closed nine of the district's 20 schools, including half of the area's elementary schools. Closing the police department will save the city $2 million a year, but at a terribly high cost. Unemployed police officers are police officers who can't pay their mortgages, can't buy groceries, and aren't putting money into the local economy, to say nothing of higher crime rates and lower quality of life.
"At the current rate of job creation," as Michael Powell and Motoko Rich note in today's New York Times, "the nation would need nine more years to recapture the jobs lost during the recession." Given that anemic pace of growth, I'm not sure if there's anything we can do to pull towns like Pontiac out of rubble. In all likelihood, we will leave these people -- mostly black, mostly working-class -- to the wolves.
-- Jamelle Bouie