Hybrid Police-Firefighters Could Patrol Michigan City’s Streets

BAY CITY, MI — Police officers cross-trained as firefighters could begin patrolling Bay City’s streets by July if the Bay City Commission OKs a proposed merge between the 43-person fire department and 52-person police force.

Speaking in front of the commission at the Monday, Nov. 12, meeting, Bay City Police Chief Michael J. Cecchini and Interim Fire Chief Karey Prieur laid out a proposal that would sustain the size of the police department while cutting 14 firefighters, effective July 1. Prieur said, by not implementing the hybrid department plan, the city may cut the 14 positions by 2017.

The hybrid department proposal, officials estimate, would gradually result in an estimated $1.8 million yearly savings in five years.

The commission did not vote on the measure today and likely won’t this month, officials say.

About 30 people — a mix of residents and firefighters — sat in the audience while about 15 uniformed Bay City police officers stood toward the back of the room during the nearly 90-minute open-to-the-public session.

The Bay City firefighters union does not support the proposal. Who does? Cecchini, Prieur and City Manager Robert Belleman, who made the case for the merger during the meeting’s opening moments.

“If not public safety, then what?,” Belleman said. “The second question is, if public safety, then how?”

Belleman said two talked-about alternatives — increasing mutual aid agreements with surrounding fire departments, and merging the police department with the Bay County Sheriff’s Department — would not achieve the savings expected under the proposed model.

The plan in question initially would call on 24 police officers to cross-train as firefighters, with the first wave of 12 hybrid public safety officers ready to patrol the streets by July.

Officials say wages for those hybrid officers would need to be negotiated in a new contract.

The move would change the fire department’s number of daily minimum response personnel from 9 this year, to 10 in 2013, to 8.5 in 2014, officials say. Those figures would include police cross-trained as firefighters.

The proposal also would involve keeping open the existing fire stations while re-opening previously-closed Fire Station No. 5, officials say.

Each station would be staffed by one to two firefighters, officials say.

“This will improve response time,” Prieur said. “The other option would be to put two at each station and not re-open (Fire Station No.) 5.”

Much of the audience appeared to oppose the proposal and distrust the plan’s estimates.

During the meeting’s public comment section, all eight speakers — including firefighters — expressed unfavorable opinions about the plan. Some argued the merged departments would endanger both bodies, buildings and the tax revenue generated from properties.

“This is laughable,” resident Gary W. Fox told the commission. “This is a disaster for the citizens. If you vote for this, you are all going to be held accountable when the inevitable disaster comes.”

Resident Gary T. Connelly said he worries about the abilities of a depleted fire force and the inexperienced, cross-trained police officers who will respond to a fire.

“It’s hard for me to comprehend that it can go so lopsided,” Connelly said. “I don’t see why I have to pay for your judgments.”

Recently-elected firefighters union president Chris Reynolds also spoke out during the session. He was critical of the plan’s gradual savings estimate.

Bay City Mayor Christopher Shannon on Aug. 9 vetoed a 5-4 vote by commissioners to put a proposed millage on the Nov. 6 ballot that could have helped pay for police and fire operation and consolidation over a 5-year period.

“We’re back to the 5-year reduction deficit plan,” Reynolds said today. “It’s time for you to seriously consider looking at the sheriff’s proposal. This doesn’t get it.

“Obviously, it doesn’t save you the kind of money you thought it would.”

He encouraged the commission to allow citizens to vote on the proposal.

“Take it to the public,” Reynolds said. “Let’s go. When this thing goes to the general public, they vote it down.”

Belleman after the meeting said he’s unsure when the commission could vote on the proposal, but ruled out a vote at the group’s next meeting on Nov. 19.

The following meeting arrives Dec. 3.

Belleman said officials plan to publish a PowerPoint presentation of the plan’s specifics on the city website as early as this week.

From The Bay City Times

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