Michigan Messenger: Jails may be privatized under Emergency Manager law

Even private police could be considered

March 21, 2011- In addition to allowing previously negotiated union contracts to be voided, Michigan’s new Emergency Manager law gives appointees the authority to privatize police services and jails.

Indeed, voiding labor contracts and outsourcing government services is a key aspect of how they are expected to balance the budgets of financially stressed towns.

“[C]ertain functions of police work, such as jails, can easily be privatized,” said Louis Schimmel, executive administrator for the city of Warren.

Schimmel has deep experience with applying private sector solutions to economically struggling towns. In 1986 he was appointed receiver for the city of Ecorse, where his efforts to cut costs through privatization were dubbed by the Mackinac Center, “a major, although tentative victory for market forces.”

As emergency financial manager in Hamtramck from 2000-2006 Schimmel sold off the Dept. of Public Works.

Schimmel said that Warren is considering following the example of Sterling Heights, which contracted out the management of its jail last year. Sterling Heights replaced the police officers at their jail with the Danish private security company
G4S — once known as Wackenhut.

Schimmel said that a lack of private sector alternatives makes it difficult to privatize whole police departments but communities can consolidate services and costs with neighboring municipalities or purchase services from the county.

This is underway in the city of Pontiac, where the police, under pressure from emergency financial manager Michael Stampfler, voted to dissolve their union in expectation that some would be hired on by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Dept.

Some are worried that the rush to cut police labor costs will impair public safety.

According to Michigan Association of Police Chiefs executive director Tom Hendrickson, there is no requirement for minimum level of police services in Michigan communities. “There could be literally no police,” he said.


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