by Scott McClallen
House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, and state Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, announced a plan to spend $15 million in state funding to support community policing in Detroit and nearby communities.
The proposal seeks to fund the Detroit Police Athletic League’s (PAL) new Community Connection Initiative, which aims to spread athletics and mentorship programs across the state.
“I’ve worn the badge, and I’ve seen the importance of strong community policing,” Wentworth said in a statement. “When you make it a real priority, it can change lives and make real, tangible improvements in public safety. While others are looking to defund programs like this and limit police presence in the community, we have made it a priority in the state House to support our local police who are doing it right. PAL stands out as exactly the sort of program we are looking to help.”
In May, Wentworth and other House GOP lawmakers announced an $80 million plan to support recruitment mental health and training support that passed the Legislature.
The new announcement is for a new $15 million appropriation for the PAL spread over the next five years as the program expands to new locations.
The plan will be included this summer in a supplemental bill spending the state’s current budget surplus, House GOP spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro told The Center Square.
“The Police Athletic League is a strong success story in Detroit,” Wentworth said. “In a time of division and political posturing, they’re making the community safer by bringing people together. I am grateful to Rep. Whitsett for being such a strong advocate for this program and Detroit and to the team at PAL for doing such a great job making a difference. The Detroit Police Department is doing it right, and we are going to have their back at the state Capitol.”
THe new funding, $3 million annually over five years, would allow Detroit PAL to expand its Community Connection Initiative to at least 13 other cities in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. That includes Harper Woods, Highland Park, Southfield, Eastpointe, Grand Rapids, Flint, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and others.
The Community Connection Initiative is a six-12-week youth mentoring program aimed to strengthen trust between local police officers, youth, and communities, while also providing youth development.
The program would be expected to reach 20,000 youth statewide.
Detroit PAL CEO Robert Jamerson welcomed the announcement.
“We can’t even begin to put into words what this funding will do for Detroit PAL and our community,” Jamerson said in a statement. “Now that we have this much needed funding, thanks to Speaker Wentworth and the Michigan House of Representatives, we truly believe our Community Connections Initiative will move from Detroit, throughout the State and ultimately across the nation, which I know will help a lot of families and support our policing objectives and partnerships.”
For 50 years, Detroit PAL has operated in the Motor City, holding “critical conversations” between police officers and youth, focusing on five areas: goal-setting, resilience, healthy lifestyles, accountability and teamwork. It will also include surveys to measure the level of trust and respect between youth and officers throughout the program.
Nationwide, law enforcement has struggled to recruit and retain new officers since the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Two months after Floyd’s death in the epicenter in Minneapolis, about 200 police officers out of the 850 officers in the Minneapolis Police Department filed paperwork to leave or claim mental or physical harm while on duty. One lawyer estimates the settlement could cost taxpayers $35 million.
Michigan appears to be faring better, but law enforcement still struggles to recruit. For example, in May, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said he had 75 open positions.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.