Despite concerns over pedestrian safety, City Council voted 8-3 Monday night against an amendment to the Ann Arbor’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year which would have diverted funds for a new Assistant City Administrator position toward the hiring of two new police officers. The amendment requested the officers be deployed for traffic enforcement around schools and in residential neighborhoods.
Pedestrian safety has been central to City Council since a 16-year-old high school student was struck by a vehicle and killed on his way to school in October. Members of A2 Safe Transport –– a citizen’s group formed in response to a series of accidents involving pedestrians –– as well as other Ann Arbor residents have frequently expressed frustration over the council’s slowness to act on the issue.
Jeanice Swift, Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent, thanked members of City Council for their work on the issue, while noting they still had more work ahead of them.
“We really appreciate the partnership of our community groups, A2 Safe Transport, our PTO Council and others,” she said. “We really recognize that there is significant work ahead, and I want you to know that we pledge our continued focus and partnership to our city-schools relationship, ensuring that we’re not just sitting in meetings but we’re producing results.”
Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2), who proposed the amendment, said the absence of new police staff in the budget didn’t make sense as the City was including 11 new full-time paid positions, noting also the number of police officers has decreased 23 percent over the past 12 years, from 159 in 2005 to 122 in 2017.
Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4), a co-sponsor of the amendment, said traffic enforcement ought to be treated more seriously.
“We often hear that serious crime is down,” Eaton said. “We don’t have very many murders, there aren’t a lot of assaults. But I have to say that a pedestrian fatality is every bit as tragic as a murder. And probably ever so much more preventable. If we had adequate traffic enforcement, we could actually save lives.”
Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1), who was also a co-sponsor of the amendment, noted that as a mother of children who attend Ann Arbor Public Schools, this was an issue she cared about deeply. She said she had, in her own experience, observed that increased presence of patrol officers does act as a deterrent of reckless driving over time.
“I’m not saying there’s going to be a cop at every corner, that is not possible,” she said.” But I think what is important is less for the 80 percent who do follow the rules, but sometimes, for the 20 percent, visibility is needed.”
A large majority opposed the amendment, however, with many council members speaking against it. Councilmember Graydon Krapohl (D–Ward 4) contradicted Kailasapathy, saying reckless driving was a long-term behavior that could not be altered so easily.
“Speeding is a behavior, it’s learned,” he said. “It’s what you get accustomed to doing. Random police patrols don’t change that behavior.”
Jim Baird, Ann Arbor police chief, noted that due to the high number of officers he has who are eligible for retirement, providing for two more over the next year would be a change “mostly on paper.”
City Council also approved a $200,000 contract with security consulting firm Hillard Heintze LLC in March to audit the practices of the Ann Arbor Police Department as well as perceptions around it.
Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) said he discussed the issue of adding extra police officers to the staff with members of the firm.
“They were quite surprised at our high numbers of dedicated traffic officers,” he said. “I’m not yet convinced that we have a lack of officers problem. I think we can be smarter about how we deploy our officers.”